Young Professionals: Networking for a Cause

Seven Deadly Sins of HR

Troubles in Business Shangri-La

Capture an Audience; Advance Your Career

Trenton Booster

Corrections or additions?

These articles by Kathy Spring and Bart Jackson were prepared for the April 7, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Survival Guide

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Young Professionals: Networking for a Cause

There are only two American Cancer Society (ACS) Young Professionals groups, and one of them is in the Princeton area. Formed in June, 2003, the group gets together on a regular basis to raise some money for the ACS – and to talk about raising even more money through large events.

The next meeting takes place on Thursday, April 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the Big Fish, the seafood restaurant and bar in MarketFair. A donation of $20 is requested. Call 609-895-0101, ext. 3, for more information.

Kelly Yaede, director of corporate relations for the ACS’s Lawrenceville office, says the group was formed at the suggestion of a volunteer. "We’re a metropolis unto ourselves," says Yaede of the greater Princeton area, "and young professionals in the business community want to get involved."

Asked whether any of the members has been touched by cancer, Yaede points out that there isn’t a soul who hasn’t been. Everyone in the group – along with everyone in the community – has lost a relative or friend to cancer, or has a relative or friend who is living with cancer or is a cancer survivor.

When the group was formed it was determined that each meeting would have a social focus. Meeting at a restaurant or a night club would appeal to folks who spend their days behind desks, is how the reasoning went. The approach has worked. In existence for less than a year, the group already has 120 members.

Members range in age from mid-20s to late-30s. About half are single and the male/female ratio stands at 50/50. "However," says Yaede, "anyone can attend."

The group has decided to focus on one type of cancer each year. This year it is taking on skin cancer. That being the case, information on sun block products, skin screening, and the safe way to play in the sun is available at every meeting.

There is a meeting or event each month. Money raised through donations is given to the ACS. In addition, the group is planning larger events. Caroline Berdzik, an attorney with Buchanan Ingersoll, is chair of a committee that is in the process of organizing a major fundraiser in the late-fall or early-spring.

On Thursday, May 27, the group meets at Katmandu, and a wine tasting, to be held at the Tower Club on the Princeton University campus, takes place on Thursday, June 17. "We expect 150 people," says Yaede of the latter event.

In addition to serving a good cause, the Young Professionals group would seem to be an ideal venue for networking – and more. Asked about the potential for romance springing up among like-minded people meeting in a social setting, Yaede says "romance is not a focus." However, she admits that the possibility exists.

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Seven Deadly Sins of HR

Even the best technology or the most vital service will not automatically make a company profitable. Blend enough argumentative or incompetent people into your company, and it could have trouble giving away pure gold. Obviously, the lynch pin of any business success is getting the right people on the right projects. This is the job of New Jersey’s 7,000 human resource professionals. But for shouldering this responsibility, their salaries rank only 29th among the state’s professionals.

This low remuneration exists, at least in part, because of the myth that "anyone can do HR." Trouble is, they can’t and those trying could learn a lot from "The Quick and the Dead: The Seven Deadly Sins of the Human Resource Practitioner," a talk sponsored by the Human Resource Management Association (HRMA) taking place at the Hyatt Regency Princeton, on Monday, April 12, at 5:30 p.m. Cost: $40. Visit www.HMRA-NJ.org to register. The speaker, Steve Miranda, vice president of human resources for Lucent Technologies, outlines the blunders taking place in HR offices throughout the corporate world.

Miranda came to human resources after 22 years in other occupations. His father was a civil engineer whose work kept his family on the move. One of four children, Miranda earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Detroit. After graduation, he went to work for Ford.

He then moved east and worked in high tech research at AT&T and Lucent Technologies, including 12 years at Bell Labs in Holmdel. He then moved into administration, first in strategy and marketing and then in HR. He is now head of HR for Lucent’s 11,000-person Worldwide Services Division.

"All of us have had a lifetime of dealing with people," says Miranda. We know the species quite well. Usually we can sense who will work well with whom – and at what – better than we admit. However, all this innate common sense can get snarled in the Byzantine mesh of corporate policies and ancient business maxims. It is these factors, says Miranda, that lure the HR professional down the wide, unthinking path of the seven deadly sins:

Hiring by bias. Simply collecting the right people is not enough. "The human resource person’s primary job is to take accountability for the whole project," says Miranda. For example, building a team for a limited-term task involves more than assembling all the crack individuals in the field and locking them in a room. You have to analyze the project, the product, and the group dynamics. Have these people been working alone? Is this their first interactive experience? What structures can you establish that will help them to gel as a team?

As a venial codicil to this deadly sin, Miranda warns human resource professionals to be aware of their own biases. Do you lean toward individualists or toward team players? Additionally, are you aware of cultural differences? As Miranda puts it, "that immigrant employee who aggressively pushes ahead of everyone else may be merely exhibiting a cultural trait, or he may indeed just be a real jerk. A little study and awareness always helps going in."

Ignoring the reality of a specific situation. Everyone who sets up a team, either permanently in an office or temporarily for a project, envisions some ideal. Some believe that homogeneous teams are best because like minds make the course of decision run smoothly. Others believe setting differing opinions in contention makes the best ideas float to the top.

Miranda suggests scrapping your personal template for success, and dealing with each situation as it exists. One plan does not fit all. Joe, Jim, and Sally may argue all day and still get the job done; while the next task team would go nuts in the face of such argumentative environs.

Putting too much emphasis on appearances. Many who screen job candidates look first at the press of their pants, the shine of their shoes, and their punctuality. By these yardsticks, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford might well have been turned away.

"Know each position intimately," says Miranda. "Further, know the product and its place in the whole corporate vision." Once you know the special skills required, set ways to test for them. If you have a candidate for a new sales slot, have him wait in the outer office and chat with your secretary. Then ask your secretary her opinion of him. Receptionist charming is, after all, a requirement for salespeople.

Making changes without forethought. "It’s all right to be an agent of change," says Miranda, "as long as you are sure of what you want to change into." He gives the analogy of the person who claims he wants to lose 10 pounds. Fine. But why? The dieter seeking to look good on the beach may put a premium on toning up muscle, and the bride-to-be may want the absolutely fastest weight loss method. Meanwhile, the person concerned about his health may want a slow weight loss plan he can stick with long term.

It is the same way in business. If you want to change your businesses image, you have to ask why, and you have to decide what you want to change it to. Each aspect must be questioned down to a final explanation. Not only will this give employees a clear road map to reaching their goal, but it will also provide the human resource professional with more precise selection guidelines.

Failing to take advantage of creative freedom. Every executive wanders the path of his own judgment, bordered by corporate rules and policies. The human resource director, Miranda says, often has a wider path than a CFO or other department heads. The problem is, most don’t take advantage of the latitude.

Many HR directors labor exhaustively to established salary scales with appropriate ranges as if money alone were the sole element of compensation. Meanwhile, study after study shows that creative benefits packages are at least as important to most employees. Additionally, Miranda points out, cultural differences should be considered when constructing benefits. Travel time, airfares, services for trailing spouses, real estate aid – all can be figured in to make your firm appear both attractive and concerned.

Choosing strategy over common sense. When you wake suddenly on a camping trip and stare up at the stars, do you seek to divine meanings from the constellations, or do you become aware that someone has stolen your tent? Often managers find themselves so caught up in their own corporate strategy and stated vision that obvious problems escape their notice.

The stated company goal may be to diversify into related fields you know nothing about. It will round out your customer offering, the folks in marketing assure you. Common sense, however, tells you that only a fool hopes to profit from what he doesn’t understand. Which way do you lean?

Replacing one-on-one communication with electronic communication. "We have become so efficient at communication that we had forgotten how to talk to one another," says Miranda. More and more, strategic business decisions are delivered via E-mail. This allows no opportunity for discussion and no input from those affected. Efficiency of communication is not measured in speed, but on how thoroughly ideas are exchanged. Talk, pause, listen, then consider.

Miranda admits that human resources has no corner on the business blunders market and his seven deadly sins can be found virtually anywhere, in every company. The way around these blunders is not terribly narrow, Miranda says. It merely entails placing the humanity foremost in human resources. The rest of the judgments follow logically.

– Bart Jackson

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Troubles in Business Shangri-La

Touted historically as a business Mecca, New Jersey has attracted an impressive roster of corporate headquarters and impressive start-up companies for decades, while surrounding states looked on enviously. But now confidence is waning, and neighboring states are gaining. In a dramatic 10 year low, only 28 percent of surveyed business owners felt that the Garden State was a good place to maintain or expand a firm.

The rationale behind this sentiment – and other financial barometers – are on the table during "The State of the New Jersey Economy:A Future of Preparedness," on Wednesday, April 14, at 5:30 p.m. at the Roman Hall restaurant in Trenton. Cost: $30. Call Michelle Cooper at 609-882-2000, ext. 2770. Sponsored by the Association of Government Accountants, this Garden State fiscal exam is presented by Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. Many of the points Kirschner addresses are based on findings of a survey of the NJBIA’s 21,000 members.

Despite an early childhood in Philadelphia, Kirschner considers himself a South Jersey boy. After growing up in the Camden area, Kirschner graduated from American University with a degree in political science, and then earned a law degree from Rutgers University. After a stint clerking for a Camden judge, Kirschner became legal council for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators and spent seven years as executive director of the New Jersey Bar. Living in Moorestown, he has served as NJBIA president for the past 13 years.

Kirschner sees The New Jersey Business & Industry Association as providing a good cross section of the state business population. Of its 21,000 members, 93 percent employ between 1 and 100 employees. At the other end of the spectrum, almost all of the state’s Fortune 500 companies are represented. The members’ concerns, and trends at their organizations, mirror those of the business community around the state. "As always," says Kirschner, "these trends and feelings are conflicting."

We’re OK, I’m terrible. Since the autumn of 2003, New Jersey business folk have been whispering that the economy is picking up and the tough times are ebbing away. Whether this is more wish than belief, most people are squinting toward a rainbow for the whole country. Yet individually, companies are predicting that they will take a terrible hit in the upcoming year. In response to the NJBIA survey, a mere 16 percent predicted an economic downturn nationally, but 60 percent didn’t think things were getting better for their own companies.

"Part of this individual pessimism comes from familiarity," says Kirschner. "People can always see the looming disasters in their own field better than anywhere else." A tea merchant may view the overall economy dispassionately, yet be terrified of his own future as his shipments are held up for Homeland Security checks at the docks. Unfortunately, this individual uncertainly leads to more microlevel caution, less investment, and little expansion.

Wilting Garden State business. When the economy slumps, ample blame seems to fall on everybody, including the home state. "But when three out of ten people are calling New Jersey a bad place for business, there must be some solid reasons," says Kirschner. And according to the NJBIA survey, there are. Property taxes rank highest on the company owners’ list of grievances. For every dollar that flows from the state to Washington, only 60 cents comes back. Other taxes must pick up the slack.

Running a close second, healthcare costs are viewed as being prohibitively high in New Jersey. "Probably the major reason for our state’s higher medical costs," says Kirschner, "is that we lack the big city hospitals of our neighboring states. These huge hospitals in major cities can afford an economy of scale that our smaller units cannot match."

General taxes, high cost law suits, and government regulations are also business concerns, with environmental regulations coming in last in a list of negatives. On the plus side, transportation and availability of like businesses are advantages that keep companies here.

Jobs versus confidence. Employment is down. Long layoff lists invariably punctuate the evening business reports. Everyone knows someone who is getting fired, and this creates a job panic akin to a stock market spiral. "It does not matter to people that the GDP is up, along with rises in productivity and even total income. It doesn’t mean much that with our low inflation rate people have more after tax purchasing power than they did one year ago. "They just fear for their jobs," says Kirschner.

The threat of unemployment, along with a fair amount of under employment, halts consumer purchases. I may be earning plenty of money now, but for how long? Maybe I’d better not saddle myself with that new house or that car with the five year loan.

Winners and losers. Every market downturn brings opportunity for someone else. While consumer confidence has slowed construction and softened the office leasing market, purchasers now have a window of opportunity. Kirschner says that all kinds of deals can be made and concessions won from building owners that were not available in the recent past. This slump may mark the time for an organization to expand its facilities.

Nationwide, traditional manufacturing has fallen sharply. Yet for the Garden State this loss will not prove as painful as previously. In the mid-1980s, at least 20 percent of New Jersey’s wealth depended on such manufacturing. Now, with the shift to service and high tech, manufacturing comprises only 10 per cent; much less than in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Future employers. As Kirschner sees it, New Jersey is well positioned for the future. Big Pharma and the healthcare industries will continue to grow and our state will take a strong market share. Telecom, after a harsh shakedown, is now coming back with fewer, but much stronger, players. Also the logistics fields will expand in our transportation-accessible state. Warehouses and distribution centers should thrive.

Yet interestingly, it will not be the mega-corporations that will be providing Garden Staters with the most new jobs, says Kirschner. In the face of global competition, the large corporations will continue to downsize here, even as they expand overseas. Small and midsize business will continue to be responsible for two-thirds of our state’s new job growth, as they have been in the past.

But don’t look for an expanded classified sections just yet, warns Kirschner. Last year only fifteen percent of New Jersey companies hired new employees. In December, projecting into 2004, a mere 28 percent expected to take on any new workers at all. Thus far in this quarter, those predictions have proven correct.

Alleys or backwaters. Congressman Rush Holt’s Einstein Alley committee and the proposed Liberty Alley at Jersey City seek to transform the Route 1 corridor and the state’s northern port area into vast high tech business centers. Each is a wonderful dream, assesses Kirschner, yet he has one caveat. "Just remember that every other state has similar plans – each with its own designated area to be the next Silicon Valley," he says. There is not room for all of them to succeed.

The success of any such project entails luring major venture capital forces and hoping they will back your bet. The effort and risk are enormous. If you want to put your own money down, Kirschner suggests you back the stable small and mid-size businesses that traditionally have been the backbone of Garden State wealth. "You can slow them down," says Kirschner, "but you cannot keep them down."

– Bart Jackson

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Capture an Audience; Advance Your Career

From the time he was a teenager Doug Stevenson was drawn to performing in all of its glorious varieties. Mime, musicals, avant garde, experimental, ballet, jazz, and rock ‘n roll – he reveled in all of it. His parents, an insurance agent and a housewife, did not discourage him, but neither were they enthusiastic. It is only recently that he has realized that his parents, despite zero interest in singing, dancing, or speaking on stage, are his role models.

"My father was a Cub Scout leader, a Boy Scout leader, the leader of his Lions club," he says. His mother was president of the PTA and head of numerous committees. "Everywhere I went as a kid," he recounts, "they were in front of the room. They didn’t think of themselves as public speakers, but they were."

Now Stevenson, principal in Colorado Springs-based Story Theater (www.storytheater.net), and author of "Never Be Boring Again: Make Your Business Presentations Capture Attention, Inspire Action, and Produce Results," makes a living by standing in front of the room – and by teaching others how to do so effectively. On Thursday, April 15, at 5:30 p.m., he gives a workshop, "Story Theater: Strategic Storytelling for Trainers," at a meeting of the Mid-NJ Chapter of the American Society of Training & Development at the Princeton Courtyard by Marriott. Price: $40. Call 609-419-5802.

Survey after survey finds that the most important determinant of professional success is skill at public speaking, says Stevenson. Yet he finds that most people approach the task as a chore. "They think of it as teaching content, as getting through it," he says. This tack has never resulted in anything but a restless audience, but it is even more disastrous now than it was just a few years ago.

"Everyone is so busy," says Stevenson. "What you are saying has to be more interesting than the 27 things that are buzzing around in everyone’s heads." And the audience is not only preoccupied with their to-do lists. Armed with cell phone games, text messaging via Blackberry, and the ability to zap Instant Messages around the room, today’s business audience has all sorts of alternatives to listening to a speaker drone on and on.

Wake them up, and keep them attentive, and your career will soar. Here are a few tips:

Never underestimate your audience. "Everyone has a Ph.D. in learning through stories," says Stevenson. He finds that many speakers have a tendency to dumb down their material. They fail to realize that they are in competition with the likes of the Disney company, Dr. Suess, Steven Speilberg, and Larry David.

It is a good bet that nearly everyone in a corporate audience heard stories told by their parents before they could talk. They went on to become enthralled by the skillful work of the Children’s Television Workshop, and then moved on to weekly doses of movies – and probably some live theater too. Capturing their attention requires substantial storytelling skill.

Don’t make your material go it alone. "The messenger is the message," says Stevenson. In terms of function, a good speaker has nothing in common with the FedEx guy. Throwing out facts to fend for themselves is a waste of time. No one will pay attention, let alone retain the information. Speakers need to put themselves into the presentation. Use body language. Use silence. Use expression. Realize that just dropping the "package" off is not nearly enough.

Prepare well. When Henry Fonda ambled across a dusty plain or Fred Astaire swept a girl off her feet it looked effortless. In reality, acting that looks natural requires substantial preparation. Public speaking is acting, and a performance at a lectern also requires preparation.

Use PowerPoint sparingly. Lazy speakers hide in the dark behind a PowerPoint presentation, says Stevenson. Nothing could be more boring to an audience. PowerPoint can be a powerful addition, and a particular boon for visual learners, but it must be used skillfully, and should never be overused.

Act a whole lot less than your age. "My job is to give back the skills we all had at birth," says Stevenson. He points to four-year-olds as prime storytellers. "They have it all going," he says. They’ve got the body language, the voice." A pre-schooler really throws himself into a story. In addition to natural theatrical skills, youngsters have something else going for them. They are completely and truly themselves. "Authenticity," says Stevenson, "is critical."

Share your life. If everyone loves a good story, everyone really, really loves a good first person story. Speakers tend to shy away from personal stories, says Stevenson, and he thinks it is a mistake. Well crafted, with a clear point, a personal story will still stop the toughest audience from squirming – and playing Pac Man on their cell phones.

To tell a really good story, start by setting the scene, engaging all five senses. Introduce the minor characters in the story by describing unique quirks that bring them to life, and then throw in an obstacle that your hero – most often you – needs to overcome. The meat of the story comes in a detailed analysis of how the hero moved past the obstacle. Make sure to give the story a resolution that ties up all of the loose ends, and then engage the audience further by asking a question that draws them in. Something like "How about you? What early failure continues to shape your life?"

After fleshing out a good, dramatic story, write it down. And then practice telling it "out loud and on your feet," commands Stevenson.

It is a lot of work, but the good news for anyone who needs to address shareholders, employees, or groups of peers is that exceptional performances in the front of the room are within everyone’s reach. In Stevenson’s experience "Eighty percent of great public speakers are made, not born." This is true of dramatic monologists, corporate leaders, professional speakers, and PTA presidents.

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Trenton Booster

John P. Thurber, vice president for public affairs at Thomas Edison State College, has been elected president of the Board of Directors of the Trenton Downtown Association.

The Trenton Downtown Association is a private non-profit charged with the revitalization of Trenton’s downtown special improvement district. It works closely with the business community, property owners, and state and local government to strengthen the city’s central business district. The association sponsors marketing and promotional efforts, facade improvement programs, and other initiatives.

Some recent projects include development of an artist studio complex and cooperative gallery, strengthening the cultural institutions in the district, and re-establishing a public market in the city.


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