Realizing Positive Outcomes

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanAs a publisher of trade magazines, I travel to conventions and industry shows. Before that, as a consultant, I traveled to my clients’ offices. Therefore, it may surprise you that I don’t like to travel, especially to fly—unpredictable, impersonal, and a loss of control.

I am a homebody, perfectly content to stay within the comfort of my home—my castle—which is also my office. It’s not that I am people adverse, because with the telephone, email, and text, I am always available. It’s simply that I enjoy being home and anything else, including travel, pales with the comfort of home sweet home.

Like any traveler, I have many stories.

A Private Flight: One time, awaiting a connecting flight in Detroit and anxious to return home, I sat at the sparsely occupied gate, immersed in my crossword puzzle. Suddenly, an announcement interrupted my focus, “Now boarding all rows, all passengers for flight 3512 for Kalamazoo; this is the final boarding.” Strange, I mused; I had apparently tuned out all the previous announcements.

Grateful that I heard this one, I walked alone to the gate and handed the agent my ticket. “We wondered if you were here,” she smiled. Perplexed at such a strange comment, I smiled back and inanely replied, “Yes, I am here,” and proceeded through the doorway. The door shut behind me.

Walking down the empty jet way, I stepped onto the plane; the flight attendant informed me that I was the only passenger. She asked if I would be needing beverage service. I thanked her and joked that she could take the night off.

Later, as I deplaned in Kalamazoo, I inquired if this thing happened very often. “Occasionally,” she replied. “Once the plane was empty. But we have to fly anyway, because it needs to be in Kalamazoo for an early flight the next day.” So, for the price of a commercial ticket, I had a private flight with a personal flight attendant. To realize a positive outcome: have a plan, be realistic, and make the most of it. Click To Tweet

The Captian’s Final Flight: Another time, while anxiously waiting for my flight to Chicago—where I had a tight 40 minutes connection—there was an announcement of a delay: 30 minutes, then an hour, then more. Finally, two hours past the scheduled departure, we had boarded and were ready to taxi.

Then an unusual announcement has made. This was to be the captain’s final flight for the airline, as he was retiring after 22 years of service. To celebrate, several members of his family were on the plane with him. As was tradition in these cases, we would taxi past two fire trucks, which would spray a canopy of water over and on the plane. As we proceeded, parallel to the terminal, I noticed the windows lined with airline personnel, waving their goodbyes. Soon, passengers irrepressibly began waving back.

Then came another surprise announcement, “Because this is the captain’s final flight, ground control has given us priority clearance for departure; we are next in-line for take-off.” Never before had I witnessed such a speedy departure. The runway even pointed us towards Chicago.

In seemingly no time, there was another announcement, “We have enjoyed a strong tail wind and we are getting ready to land in Chicago. Because this is the captain’s final flight, air traffic control has given us priority clearance to land.” Again it was a straight shot to the runway and we quickly landed.

Then a third unexpected announcement was made. “Because this is our captain’s final flight, ground control has given us priority to taxi to our gate.” Could it be, I wondered as I glanced at my watch. My connecting flight left on time—and I was on it!

Taking a Taxi Instead: For my final story, I was traveling with two co-workers. We were headed home, again connecting in Chicago. It was winter and we landed only to learn that our flight home, the last one of the day, was cancelled due to weather.

As the more savvy travelers snapped up all the rental cars, we sought other options; alas, the only one was to spend the night in Chicago and fly home the next day. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I anticipated sleeping in my own bed that night and anything else would be second-rate.

Plus one of my associates was ill and the other was beginning her vacation the next morning with an early fight out for a cruise. If we delayed until the next day, she would miss her departing flight and part of the cruise. There were no more flights, no buses, and no rental cars.

We were 150 miles from home. It was a desperate time. Outside, a city employee was orchestrating cab rides. “What would be the possibility of getting a cabbie to take us to Kalamazoo, Michigan?” I inquired. “We really need to get home tonight,” I desperately added.

Glancing at our discouraged and tired faces, she responded positively, “Let me find you a good ride.” After putting local fares in the next five cabs, a nice new cab, with a competent looking driver, pulled up. “This is your cab,” she smiled, with a grand wave towards our coach. She had a preliminary discussion with the now bewildered cabbie. Once I assured him that I could provide directions, we were off. Four hours later he dropped us off at the Kalamazoo airport. I paid the 380 dollars fare and we each headed home. Later the airline refunded our unused tickets, so the net cost of our 150 mile cab ride was only 30 dollars.

What I’ve Learned about Travel

Although there were other stories I could have shared—remember I don’t like to fly—I picked these for a reason. Each one is positive: a private flight, a priority trip, and an accommodating cabbie. These represent the perspective I attempt to adopt when I fly. I call it travel mode. To successfully travel, I need to be in travel mode. There are three aspects to it:

Have a plan: If you don’t have a plan to occupy the idle time when you fly, you will be bored and irritable. My plan starts with magazines to read. I don’t take ones I want to keep, as each one gets thrown away when it is finished, making my load a little lighter. Magazines are for sitting in gates, standing in line, and before take off. Naturally, there are crossword puzzles in the in-flight magazines to occupy the actual flight. Movies, another favorite pastime, are a welcome offering on longer flights. Plus there is the added benefit of the more objectionable material being edited out of the film. Finally, there are the rewards I give myself at each hub airport: food; frozen yogurt or popcorn are much anticipated treats. My plan beneficially fills my travel time.

Be realistic: I used to have the expectation that an airline schedule was an accurate representation of what would happen. The fact that airlines begin padding their schedules to boast a higher on-time arrival, did little to erase my frequent disappointment. Then I realized that a more reasonable attitude was to assume the plane would be late and to rejoice with an on-time or early arrival. Here’s why. Let’s say a trip has two flights there and two flights back. If one flight is late, do your remember the three that were on time? No, you dwell on the one that was late. Now look at it mathematically. Assume that each flight has an on-time arrival of 70 percent. That means that for the two flights to get to your destination, you only have a 49 percent chance that both flights will be on time. To include your return flights, you only have a 24 percent chance of all four planes being on time. And if you have three flights (two hubs) in each direction, your odds of all six being on time drop to 11 percent. With proper and realistic expectations, your chances of being disappointed are greatly reduced. This isn’t optimism versus pessimism; it’s realism.

Make the most of it: Is business travel something to be endured or an experience to be relished? If your perspective is one of tolerance, then you will gravitate towards the negative. If your perspective is one of adventure (I’m not quite there yet), then you will remember the positive—like I have done with my three stories. And there are many more. You meet people by chance whom you will never see again, yet a lasting impression is made. A simple kindness to another traveler uplifts one’s spirit. Even spending time to check out the airport architecture or infrastructure is not without its rewards.

I have just shared my prescription for travel, the perspective I need for a successful trip. However, this can be applied to any task or endeavor to realize a positive outcome: have a plan, be realistic, and make the most of it.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

So, You’re Being Acquired

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Most employees fear the changes wrought by acquisition.

I have never been “acquired,” but I have been on the other side—about a dozen times, buying small and medium-sized companies and integrating them into a larger operation.

The almost universal response to an acquisition announcement is trepidation and panic. Staff, especially front-line staff, expect the worst. Even those who dislike their present company or owner protest loudly at the prospect of a new employer. Increased pay, expanded benefits, and promises of job security do little to quell their swelling apprehension. Theirs is a fear of the unknown. You cannot control much of what happens to you, but you can control your response to it Click To Tweet

If you work for a company that is being acquired, the possible strategies and resulting outcomes are limited and predictable. The buyer could be looking for a working, functional facility, but not the staff . Conversely the focus could be on the customers, but not the staff or facility. In these cases, the facts are soon readily apparent and your future employment status is known, albeit not desirable.

However, in most cases, the purchaser wants the entire operation: the staff, the facility, and the customers. Happily, jobs are secure and the future is promising. Yes, changes will occur, but astute employees will anticipate and welcome these as requisite adjustments for a better future. It is those who oppose or reject the new owner’s directives who run a legitimate risk of unemployment.

If you work for a subsidiary or division and your parent company is acquired, the possible outcomes are more complex. The intent could be let the new acquisition continue to operate as is, in a hands-off, independent manner. However, some of the other prospects are not so encouraging. There could likely be a desire to cut costs, which unfortunately means that some positions or even departments could be eliminated. Sometimes, the goal is to sell off parts of the company to other buyers. (Analysts anticipated that News Corporation would sell off many of Dow Jones’s small regional papers.) At the most extreme, the entire company can be dismantled and sold piecemeal—then employees need to endure a second acquisition.

For those who acquire companies, never forget the human element. You are dealing with peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Honestly communicate as much as you can, as quickly as you can. Backup your positive pronouncements with tangible supporting action. And if the news is bad, treat people with dignity and respect, doing all you can to facilitate their movement into a new job or career.

For those who are being acquired, remember that though you cannot control much of what happens to you, but you can control your response to it. Be realistic and update your resume so it is ready if needed, but don’t prematurely jump ship. Instead, choose to have a positive attitude about the situation, support the new management, and prove yourself to be a valuable asset. You could end up pleasantly surprised by the result.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

The Effects of High Unemployment

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanTen years ago, the unemployment rate was running high. Businesses needing to hire found themselves in a “buyer’s market.” This was what I wrote back then:

There are plenty of people looking for work. This results in more applicants to pick from for each opening. High unemployment has also served to limit employment options, thereby reducing worker mobility. The result is that employee churn rates are—or at least should be—decreasing. Having more applicants to pick from and fewer staff leaving by choice should be indicative of stable work forces. Unfortunately, this may not be the case and even if it is, it affords a false security.

Consider the following employees. Although their names have been changed and some details obscured, all describe the true plights of real people: With downsizing, layoffs, hiring freezes, employees have been stretched and pushed to a near breaking point. Click To Tweet

Chuck worked in a small satellite office of a large organization. The staff in his office were close and worked together well. They cared for each other and were like family. They helped each other to complete their work and serve clients, regardless of job description and title. Sadly, this idyllic reality ended when corporate closed Chuck’s office to save money. Some people were let go, but Chuck was told that he could work remotely from home. Then Chuck got a new boss, who rescinded that promise. Chuck now commutes 120 miles each day to work. The corporate office is nothing like his old office. Teamwork has been replaced by finger-pointing and blindly following job descriptions; no one cares about the clients—or about each other. One by one, Chuck’s coworkers have quit or are being let go. He fears he is next and is frantically looking for comparable work closer to home.

Carly is a college graduate whose chosen profession currently has a 40 percent unemployment rate. Unable to find work, she went to grad school. Her summer employment offered her a full-time position when she graduated but has been frustratingly vague on the details (right now she is relegated to computer work no one else wants to do). Unfortunately, this job is not in her field of study, nor does it interest her. However, out of necessity, she may be forced to take this job. Even if she does, she doesn’t expect to remain long.

Danielle also recently graduated from college. Her college internship continued after graduation, with the promise of a promotion when the economy turned around. She is now doing the work she was trained for—but without the title, recognition, or pay. This has been going on for a year. Although she is now working full-time, it is at her part-time hourly internship rate—or 40 percent of what is typical. She has polished her resume and is looking for better paying alternatives.

Karl has a full-time job in his chosen profession. At first, he liked his company and earned stellar reviews. However, in his latest review, he scored the lowest in each category. Last year, after their busy season, a coworker was abruptly fired. Karl fears that this year he will get the axe as soon as the seasonal peak is over. He is salaried and was initially told to expect working an additional twenty-five hours a week during the busy season. However, his employers recently tacked on an additional ten hours. He desperately wants to find a new job but has no time to pursue it. As soon as things slow down, he will begin his job hunt in earnest.

Larry greatly enjoyed working in his chosen career, finding it rewarding and fulfilling. However, after a planned move out-of-state, he was unable to find work at his level of experience and education. He eventually acquiesced to a much lower position at less than half the pay. The company promotes from within, so he hoped that he would eventually move into a position matching his skills and have his compensation level restored. Unfortunately, because he was performing a low-level position, he was looked down upon and demeaned by those who should have been his peers, in spite of the fact that he had more experience than some of them. The circumstances became so dreadful that he left, taking an even further pay cut in the hopes of finding a nicer place to work. Once again, he has the expectation to be promoted and, although feedback on his performance is very favorable, there are no current openings, so he could find himself repeating the process.

These people share two common characteristics. First, they do not like their employers or their jobs. Some have been lied to, others have been treated badly, two are significantly underpaid, and all are unhappy. The other commonality is that each of them desperately wants a different job and is working to make it happen. Since they have stellar qualifications and employable skills, their job expectations are not unreasonable. When the economy turns around, they are sure to find better work.

From this we can interpolate that:

  • Employees are unhappy, but they continue to endure difficult work situations—for now.
  • Many people are underemployed; they will correct that as soon as companies start hiring again.
  • Some people are working outside their fields of expertise. For many, this is not a choice but a short-term necessity.
  • When an entry-level employee sticks around after graduation, it may not mean that they like the company, but that there aren’t any other options.

What does all this mean?

  • When the economy turns around, many employees will immediately seek to improve their work situations. Some reports indicate that one third of the workforce is waiting to change jobs.
  • The most employable people (likely the best workers) will be the first to switch; those who lack skills or drive will stay.
  • There is pent-up worker frustration, which employers will be confronted with when alternative employment options emerge.

What can employers do?

  • Begin thinking and behaving as though unemployment is low and it’s a “seller’s market.” Treating employees better now, when you don’t have to, will keep them working for you later, when they don’t have to.
  • Recognize that with downsizing, layoffs, hiring freezes, and consolidations, employees have been stretched and pushed to a near breaking point. Look for ways now to relieve stress and reduce their pressure now.
  • Talk to employees and really listen. Perhaps there are slights that can be amended, injustices that can be corrected, and oversights that can be righted.

You can take steps now to keep the employees you have, or you can wait for economic recovery and take steps then to find and train their replacements.

[Update: As predicted, all five found new jobs once the economy turned around. Three found success quickly, but the other two required a bit more time—because the recovery was a tepid one.]

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

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The Secret to Successful Joint Ventures and Strategic Partnerships

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Astute entrepreneurs are always seeking ways to improve their business, increase revenue, and diversify into related business lines. During this time of doubtful economic conditions, with possible decreased sales and smaller profits, it is even more critical to explore ways to bolster business prospects.

One such way is by working with another organization towards your mutual benefit. This concept goes by different labels, such as joint ventures, business alliances, strategic partnerships, and collaborations. Often these arrangements are informally structured. At other times there is a more formal configuration, sometimes even resulting in a new legal entity established for this express purpose. Regardless of the name or resulting form, the effective consequence is that you now have a partner.

The results of these business alliances can be a sustained revenue stream, a short-term bump in income—or wasted effort and disappointment. In my experience, it is the latter outcome that is most often realized, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Careful advance planning can help avert disappointment and facilitate successful results for both parties. However, before I share my recommendations, let’s first explore why things often go awry: Mutual benefit and satisfaction is required if the result is to be realized and sustained. Click To Tweet

Hoping for a quick fix: Most collaborations take time to produce results. The belief that you can reach an agreement one day and see results the next is unrealistic and prone to disillusionment. If you pursue a joint venture as a last-ditch effort to save your business, it is likely too late to do any good. It is better to seek these types of innovative strategies while you are in a relatively stable position and have the time to nurture and grow them. The payoff will not be imminent, but when done right, it can be sustainable and long-term.

Not willing to contribute: Too often people enter into partnership arrangements with the erroneous expectation that with little or no effort they will realize great benefits from the work of the partner company. This is selfish and shortsighted. Even if results initially occur, they will not last, as the partner will have no reason to persist doing all the work while you reap the benefits.

Pursuing a win/lose agenda: Sometimes one or both parties in a business alliance are trapped in a win/lose mentality. They persist in the belief that the only way for them to come out ahead is for their partner to lose. Again, even if this works for the short-term, it will not last; the end will most likely be filled with accusation and heartache.

Taking advantage of your partner: Other times joint ventures are sought in order to meet a hidden agenda. Perhaps there is some technology, knowledge, information, or expertise that needs to be provided by one party for the project to succeed. The partnership is merely a ruse to quickly and cheaply obtain that desired asset. No one likes to be taken advantage of, and when it occurs, ill will is inevitable and lawsuits are likely.

Inequitable responsibilities and rewards: Arrangements in which one party is consistently expending a greater amount of time and resources while realizing lesser results is one that is destined for collapse. Business alliances that are comprised of givers and takers are doomed from the start.

Lack of agreed upon objectives and measurements: If you don’t know your target, how will you know if you reach it? How will you know if the collaboration is working? Stating that your aim is to increase sales is vague and untenable. Remember that a goal must be specific. It also needs to be quantifiable. Sometimes this is easy; sometimes it is not. Let’s say that the goal is to increase staff morale. How do you measure that? One way might be to track the staff turnover rate, with a decrease in turnover implying an increase in morale. However, is this sufficient and all-inclusive? Does your business partner concur? If your partner wants to measure morale by the number of employee complaints to management instead, with you holding tightly to the turnover stat, it is not likely that there will be agreement on the efficacy of your venture.

No exit plan: It is unwise to assume that a business alliance will last forever. Things change, and what may have been mutually beneficial will one day cease to be. Lacking a clear and defined ending subjects participants to needless worry and anxiety. Suppose that one company needs to buy equipment, purchase inventory, or hire staff for the alliance to continue to function. If there is concern over how much longer the venture will exist, there will certainly be reluctance to make the necessary investments to continue it. This results in tentative and halfhearted decision-making and could doom an otherwise healthy arrangement.

With these pitfalls in mind, let’s consider the recommendations of how to embark upon a successful collaboration:

Be honest and forthright about your expectations and contributions: This is not a time to hold back. Be clear about what you expect and what you will do. Insist on the same attitude from the other person. Holding back key information will not give you a stronger position later but rather will make success less likely.

Pursue a mutually beneficial relationship: If you can’t agree to seek a “win-win” situation, there is really no point in persisting with discussions. Mutual benefit and satisfaction is required if the result is to be realized and sustained.

Set goals: Once it is determined that there is mutual benefit in moving forward, goals or expectations must be established. As previously mentioned, these considerations must be measurable and agreeable.

Do your part: Whatever you agreed to do, be sure that you follow up on it—or ensure that someone else is. Often the negotiation for joint ventures is not conducted by those tasked with implementing them. Therefore, if you are delegating responsibilities that you agreed to, make sure that they are clearly communicated and diligently pursued. If your team doesn’t buy into the project and is not committed to make it work, the contribution that you committed to will not be rendered, and the partnership will fail.

Discuss how and when the arrangement will end: Assume from the very start that the venture will someday end. Discuss what that point is and how to determine it, (which shouldn’t be hard if you were successful with the goal-setting recommendation). Agree on the responsibilities of each company in dealing with resultant assets or remaining inventories in which one party may have a heavy investment. Determine how things can wind down in a controlled, ethical, and responsible manner so that minimal damage occurs to any stakeholders.

While there is much that can go awry in pursuing a business alliance, there is an exciting upside when it is implemented wisely. Aside from producing profitably sustainable results, some joint ventures have been more successful than either founding company; others have been spun off to become their own self-sustaining entity. By avoiding the preceding pitfalls and pursuing the above recommendations, you’ll set up your strategic partnership for success.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Shoot the Puck

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanI have been following the sport of hockey. Before that, a myriad of other athletic diversions captured my attention. As a youngster, I did what many of my peers did and played Little League baseball. Not that I was good at it or particularly enjoyed it. In fact, after four years of mostly sitting on the bench or chasing an occasional stray ball in right field, I realized that I wasn’t having much fun.

I was merely playing the game because I assumed that was what a kid was supposed to do. My attempts to play baseball did, however, lead to watching the big leagues on TV. In fifth grade, my teacher, a fanatic fan of the Detroit Tigers, planned our school day around the playoff schedule so that she—I mean “we”—could listen to the games during study time. The Tigers won the series and I was won over, becoming a devotee. I faithfully followed the Tigers until their next World Series in 1984. Whether it’s hockey, business, or life, you can’t score if you don’t shoot. Click To Tweet

Shortly thereafter, I moved to Wisconsin. It was hard to be a Tiger fan in Wisconsin; in fact, in was hard to be a baseball fan in the shadow of the state’s beloved Green Bay Packers. In a place where being a “cheese head” is a compliment (note to the uninformed: “cheese head” is the proudly self-proclaimed moniker of the die-hard Packer fanatic) I soon adopted the Packers as “my” team. Although my tenure in the dairy state was short-lived, I continued to be a loyal Packer backer after returning to Michigan.

But it was hard for me to get back into baseball. The player strikes, lockouts, excessive hype, and salary escalations distanced me from the game and left me increasingly ambivalent. Disenfranchised with baseball, I segued to basketball. Although I closely followed the college tournament during March Madness, it was not the defensive prowess of college hoops to which I was endeared, but the faster-paced, higher-scoring professional games. But then, as the showmanship became excessive, I began to seek alternatives.

Throughout these meanderings as an athletic couch potato, hockey was a sport that I viewed as anomalous. I treated it with disdain. It seemed to me that the only activity was skating back and forth, with few scoring opportunities and even fewer goals. I just didn’t get it.

When my son, Dan, began following hockey, I didn’t immediately share in his interest and enthusiasm. One day he asked me to watch the game with him. Inwardly I groaned, but outwardly I agreed, because that’s what parents do for their kids. He made popcorn (okay, so maybe it wasn’t going to be so bad after all) and we plopped down in front of the tube. I watched the play move back and forth, right to left and then left to right. Soon the popcorn was gone, but the players kept up their dance with the puck. My eyes grew weary as one more journey up the ice began.

Suddenly, Dan became excited. He jumped to his feet and exclaimed, “Watch this!” as the puck was guided past the blue line. To me it looked like the same play I had already seen a hundred times during that game. “They’re going to score!” he predicted. The announcers amplified the tone of their play-by-play as they sensed that something important was about to happen. Play proceeded across the red line, then a pass and a slap shot, followed by total bedlam and an energetic high-five from my son. On the second replay, I, too, saw the puck go in the net.

I stared at my son in disbelief. “How did you know?” I stammered in amazement.

“Come on, Dad, you could tell it was going to happen as soon as he got the puck,” Dan replied. Obviously, there was more to this game than I could see. I began asking questions and for the first time in our relationship, our roles reversed and my son became the teacher. I was astonished with how much he knew and the subtleties he comprehended. Under his tutelage, my understanding of the sport grew and with it, my interest and appreciation followed. Over time, I learned about a one-timer, the five hole, power plays, a two-pad slide, and the poke check.

Soon, watching the Red Wings become one of our favorite father-son activities. During one game, we watched an uncharacteristically unproductive power play wind down. “Shoot the puck,” I implored the Detroit offense.

“They didn’t have any good scoring opportunities,” Dan responded.

“But they can’t score if they don’t shoot the puck,” I replied.

Dan paused and gave me a quick glance, followed by a brief look of comprehension before his attention was recaptured by the game. Perhaps I had blurted something profound. After all, it did make sense that if you don’t take a shot, you can’t score.

Regardless whether the sport is hockey, baseball, football, or basketball, playing it safe isn’t going to win too many games and is certainly not what championship teams are made of. How many times have you watched a team build a commanding lead, only to lose the game as a result of becoming tentative and mechanical as they tried to protect their lead rather than build upon it?

This example extends to business. While extreme, make-or-break risk-taking is generally not advisable, tentatively protecting what you have built up will not position you to take advantage of new opportunities that present themselves. You could even squander what you have. Yes, many of your shots may miss the mark, but some will be on target. And those that are will keep you moving forward and propel you to the next level.

The same is true in life. If you expect to coast through your time on this earth, hoping that everything will work out, you will end up sad and disappointed. Intentional and deliberate action is what is needed to reach your potential and become the person you are capable of being. I once saw a poster of a large turtle. The caption read, “Behold the turtle; he only makes progress when he sticks out his neck.”

Whether it’s hockey, business, or life, you can’t score if you don’t shoot.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

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