General Observations Archives

“Going to Be a Change Agent? – Get a Clear and Strong Mandate First.”

Published on March 10th, 2015 by Alan L. Sklover

“Most pioneers end up with their face in the dust and an arrow in their back.”

– Unknown

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES: About 15 years ago Emile came to us after a rather disturbing job loss and career stumble. He had been a tenured Professor of Linguistics at a major university and had received an offer that, for him, was almost too good to refuse. A major financial services firm in New York had approached him through an executive recruiter to spearhead a major initiative regarding linguistic, economics and artificial intelligence.

Simply put, the firm’s Senior Most Management thought it would be a great idea and a profitable one, as well, to rationalize the words that its many divisions and subsidiaries used on a daily basis. For example, if only the word “profit” meant the same thing to a bond trader in Tokyo as it did to a Credit Analyst in New York and to a derivatives salesman in London, too. Likewise for the words “earnings,” “net income,” “annual return” and “free cash flow.”

For a full year an Executive Recruiter searched for the perfect candidate and came back with Emile’s name and resume. Because he had a strong background in both linguistics and economics, he seemed ideal for the challenge. The offer made to Emile was almost 10 times more than he had ever earned in a year. He accepted, and began his new job shortly after the end of the then-current semester.

After Senior Most Management approved a plan, a timeline and a budget, and Emile hired a small but impressive staff, Emile began his tour of the firm’s offices in all of the world’s major financial capitals. His plan was very detailed and well thought out. His execution of the plan was impeccable. His meetings were promising. His results were disastrous.

It turned out that the traders in Tokyo had no use or patience for a new set of words: their clients, customers and clearinghouses had no interest in changing – or re-learning – the meaning of words and phrases that had universally used in their trades for many decades. The same was true for the derivative salesmen in London, the foreign exchange salesmen in Dubai, and the precious metals traders in Hong Kong. When they were not derisive of Emile’s efforts, they were simply ignoring them.

Sure enough, Senior Most Management soon closed down the project, thanked Emile for his four months of efforts, and terminated his services. No notice. No severance.

That great idea didn’t go too well, did it?

LESSON TO LEARN: Change is surely needed, even in the most successful of endeavors, because competitors are making changes every day and we have to change to survive. Unless companies continually adapt their changing business climates, they will sooner or later go the same way as the dinosaurs. It’s great that you are a transformative person who is going to make transformational change. But don’t think it will be without danger.

Face it: If you are going to be a transformative “change agent,” then you are going to be feared and perhaps even despised by certain people, and perhaps even powerful people, not necessarily due to the changes you will likely make, but because of the changes you just might make.

Accept it: If you are going to make transformative changes, then you are going to make some people uncomfortable, and perhaps even upset. Even if the changes you expect to make are good for the company, and in the overall interests of all.

Deal with it: If you are successful in improving the processes and people in a new context, you are going to make those who are already working in that context, and doing the “usual thing,” look less than perfect.

Think about it: These days, you don’t need to have the words “Change Agent” tattooed on your forehead or printed on your business cards to be hired as a Change Agent. Even if you are not given such a clear title and role, chances are if you are a creative, dynamic, and energetic “new person” you will be viewed or treated as someone who might suggest change.

Get ready for pushback: If you are going to make changes, you are going to get pushback, sometimes benign, sometimes evil, sometimes in ways you don’t see, and sometimes in a kind of “language” you don’t understand. As I often counsel clients, and not necessarily referring to sex, “Be extra careful until you know ‘who is sleeping with who.’” There are many “webs of connection” and complex relations at work in any organization.

I have come up with something of a set of principles, that might prove useful to you in navigating your transformative efforts. We call it “The Seven P’s to Protect Change Agents.” Read on.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: To better prepare and protect yourself in going into a transformative “change agent” role, consider these “Seven P’s To Protect Change Agents”:
Read the rest of this blog post »

“Employers Seek Job Candidates with Empathy – A Critical, Yet Scarce, Attribute”

Published on January 21st, 2015 by Alan L. Sklover

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.”

– Meryl Streep

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES: For a long time we have encouraged clients to live an empathic life by being involved in charitable and civic matters, because it is good for their careers. And, of course, it is contributes to the welfare of our entire society.

More and more, it seems, employers are seeking out those who exhibit empathy as a valuable and scarce business advantage. That is because the view is growing that you simply can’t serve the needs of customers unless you understand and appreciate what “moves” them to purchase your product or service, and then to come back for more.

The following article on this very topic appeared in Fortune Magazine on September 22, 2014, and addresses the importance of empathy in business, employment and career.
Read the rest of this blog post »

“How can I do my job if management does not do theirs?”

Published on April 1st, 2014 by Alan L Sklover

Question: Dear Mr. Sklover: I am writing from Sweden, but my question is of a general nature. 

How can I as an employee act and communicate strategically when my boss and management lead poorly =  not connecting to company vision, not setting clear goals, wasting employees’ time on poorly planned meetings, not asking for and giving professional advice, etc. 

If you find this question to be within the scope of your concern, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this. 

Best regards,
Johan Andersson
Gothenberg, Sweden

Answer: Dear Johan: Wow, do I ever view this to be within the scope of my concern, and a great question, as well! I am confident that it is a question many employees ask of themselves on a daily or more frequent basis. This is the kind of subject I do not address often, but I do enjoy sharing my thoughts on subjects like this one. Here are my thoughts:   

1. A competent, caring and communicative manager at work is a rare blessing, not necessarily the norm, and never to be expected. That statement may well upset my blog visitors who are, themselves, managers. I truly hope I do not upset them, but it is something I believe. I do not believe it is cynical or pessimistic to have that view, but rather realistic and, in fact, helpful as a preliminary presumption. Simply put, in some companies and organizations, people permit themselves to become dispirited and then let that dispiritedness affect their performance in a negative fashion, and senior management does nothing to reverse it.   

I am a manager, and will confess that it has happened to me at times, too, both when I was an employee and now as a manager. Yes, not doing one’s job well – without competence, caring or communication – can be an employer trait, and an employee trait, as well. Surely, I wish it was not so. I very much wish that all employers would always be productive and professional, and all employees, as well, but it has not been my experience. 

Can employees and employers be motivated to be more competent, caring and communicative, and thus more productive, on a more regular basis? Yes, absolutely; in fact that is a primary purpose of my work in my law practice and on (Our mission statement reflects that: “Repairing the World One Empowered and Productive Employee at a Time.”) But, alas, I do not start off my day expecting to hear of entirely productive work relations from my clients. I try to act that way myself, to motivate it in others, and praise it when I observe it, whether by employees or managers. But I do not expect it.    

Frequent blog visitors will recall that I have used this “formula” several times previously: “Happiness = Reality Minus Expectations.” Setting expectations of others a bit on the lower side does in fact help one cope at certain times, although care must be taken not to permit that to lower your expectations of yourself.

2. No matter the degree of management dysfunction around you, you can and should try to conduct yourself in the highest fashion, in all respects, at all times,  to be the best “model” you can be, for both your colleagues and for your managers. Although “far easier said than done,” this is unquestionably the very best way to instill higher aspirations in others: to aspire yourself, on a daily basis, and thus act as a model of sorts. 

I firmly believe that dignity breeds dignity, compassion encourages compassion, aspiration motivates aspiration, and enthusiasm can be as contagious as the common cold. Whether at work, at home, or elsewhere, others see us and to some degree say to themselves, “If he or she acts that way, I guess I can act that way, too.” Yes, I do believe that care about one’s work, setting standards for one’s conduct, and communicating to the extent of one’s abilities, can actually be “contagious.” But I am aware, too, that their opposites – that is, less productive ways at work – can be “contagious” as well.   

We help employees help themselves by offering Model Letters, Memos, Checklists and Form Agreements for almost every workplace issue, concern and problem. They show you “What to Say, How to Say It.™” Want to see our Entire List? Just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!  

3. Conducting yourself at work in the most productive manner you are capable of – what you call “acting and communicating strategically” – is surely a difficult challenge in the midst of management dysfunction, but maintaining your best personal standards surely is your best coping strategy. There is just no question that having managers who do not connect to the company vision, who do not set clear goals, who waste employees’ time, who do not offer professional feedback, make your job so, so, so much more difficult and, at times, seemingly impossible. 

But that is the challenge you face, and it is perhaps the most important burden before you at work: not letting the “management madness” make you respond with “employee disengagement.” It is just a matter of “swimming upstream” against a strong current of incompetence flowing in the other direction. The best part of swimming upstream, though, is that it makes you a much stronger swimmer. Yes, swimming against the tide is difficult, but a wonderful discipline, too, and the stronger the tide the stronger the swimmer you will become.  

I say and write this often, regarding the workplace: “Like it or not, these days you have two different jobs, both of which you must accept: (i) doing your job, and (ii) keeping your job.” The second is often the harder job of the two. In the context you present, not only must you (i) struggle daily to be productive and do a good job, but (ii) you need to do so despite the many deficiencies and failures of your managers, which make your “regular” job that much more difficult. But, no one promised an easy life, did they?

4. However, when acting in your very best fashion at work, do not be surprised to experience (a) resentment, (b) intimidation, and (c) at times, even sabotage, by others. Human nature is such that people are capable of both very positive and also very negative things. At times, when people act in what I call an “aspirational manner,” that is, bringing forth in themselves the highest of ideals, it upsets others who do not practice that. Also, acting in the highest fashion – entirely positively and professionally – can at times make others feel intimidated. 

On my last job, all I wanted to do was to do the best I could, and make my employers – the law firm partners – happy. So, (a) I worked many hours, (b) I took 10 minute lunches, (c) I returned all client calls within 60 minutes, and (d) I got along with all the staff quite well. The result? Half of the partners, many of whom worked as little as possible, and took “liquid lunches” lasting two hours, didn’t like me, and made my life difficult. 

I was entirely puzzled, so I (a) worked harder, (b) took only 5-minute lunches, (c) returned all client telephone calls within 30 minutes, and (d) got along even better with the staff. One senior partner approached me in the hallway, jabbed his index finger into my chest, looked me right in the face and said, “I know what you are up to . . . you’re trying to steal the clients!” I then understood: my “best efforts” were intimidating to people who did not have the discipline and standards that I did, and I had to either find a different place to work or open my own business. (I did the latter.). 

This same thing, with some variations, has happened to many of my clients who strive only to do their best work, every day. Don’t be surprised if it happens to you.   

5. Patience, perseverance and perspective are what you need to summon, unless and  until you believe there is risk to (a) your emotions, (b) your health, (c) your family relations or (d) your faith. To “survive” at work, in the midst of such management dysfunction, you will need to summon all you can of your ingenuity and inner strength. However, if the time comes that you believe your emotions, your health, your family relations or your faith are under strain, then that will surely be the time to begin searching for a new job, with a new set of managers, in a different division or at a new company, hopefully in a more positive and professional work culture. Just as “You don’t marry everyone you date,” few jobs are forever. 

Alternatively, you will decide to establish your own business, consulting company, or partnership with others who are of a like mind and view. 

While I admire those who dedicate themselves to improving their work culture, there are times that you just must “let it go.” It is great to persevere, but not at the cost of your emotions, your health, your family relations or your faith. At that time, it is your responsibility to yourself to locate and plant yourself in more fertile fields, where you can grow and flourish, and your abilities, attitude and enthusiasm are all respected, appreciated and rewarded, and most of all, returned in kind.   

Johan, I hope this makes sense, and that it is of some help to you. Sorry if I wrote too much. However, what you inquired about is central to so much of my own concerns, values and daily efforts, that I think about it a lot. Imagine, if  you would, what a world we would live in if we all cared about our work, and dedicated ourselves to it. Thanks for writing in; I always enjoy hearing from those at great distance from my home in New  York.    

My Best to You,
Al Sklover 

P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls). Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.

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© 2014, Alan L. Sklover All Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Prohibited.

Fiduciary – Key Words & Phrases

Published on May 10th, 2013 by Alan L Sklover

Key Words

What is the meaning of:


Fiduciary” means “relation of utmost trust, care and confidence.” It refers to both (a) the relation of utmost trust, and (b) the person who assumes the relation of utmost trust. Fiduciaries must protect the interests of another person or organization, commonly called the “beneficiary.”

Common examples of fiduciaries include a Board Member of an organization, an Attorney for a client, a Guardian for a child or legally incompetent person, an Executor of an estate, or Trustee of a trust fund.

Trust: The fiduciary relation is the most highly trusted – and strictly scrutinized – relation there is in the law. It is so trusted and scrutinized by the law that a fiduciary must even ignore his or her own interests whenever they are in conflict or potential conflict with the interests of those served. Fiduciaries are held personally accountable to their beneficiaries if they fail to fulfill their fiduciary duties.

A central duty of a fiduciary is to avoid any conflict of interest with those for whom he or she is a fiduciary. For example, a Board Member of a not-for-profit organization should not engage in any business dealings, directly or indirectly, with that organization.

Care: Also, a fiduciary is not permitted to take unwarranted risks on behalf of beneficiaries he or she serves as a fiduciary. A fiduciary should never make risky investments, or mix his or her own monies with monies of those he or she serves.

A fiduciary must be duly diligent, watchful, protective and risk-averse, similar in many respects to the way a parent of a young child must be.

Confidence: A fiduciary must honor and fulfill a “duty to know” the important facts regarding the beneficiary’s affairs. Thus, a fiduciary cannot plead “I did not know” facts he or she should have known.

Nor can a fiduciary keep secrets from his or her beneficiaries and his or her co-fiduciaries, but has an absolute duty of candor with them. If facts pertain to the affairs of those the fiduciary serves, they must be disclosed, both to the beneficiary and to all co-fiduciaries. Thus, there can be no “secrets.”

In the employment context, “fiduciary” obligations arise when the employee is assigned the task of overseeing funds or requested to act on behalf of the interests of the employer outside the employment, for example, to represent the employer’s interests in a trade organization or on the Board of another organization.

Since fiduciaries voluntarily take on very significant obligations, it is not at all unreasonable for a fiduciary to request insurance from claims, or indemnification from lawsuits, or other protections from potential fiduciary-related claims or expenses that might arise. This is especially the case when employees are asked to take on a fiduciary role as part of his or her job. Paying premiums on a fiduciary “bond” obtained from an insurance company is the most common way this is achieved, although nothing – not the law or any insurance – will protect a fiduciary from gross negligence, willful ignorance or dishonest acts.

P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls). Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.

© 2013 Alan L. Sklover. All Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Strictly Prohibited

Where can I find “niches” to further my career?

Published on April 7th, 2012 by Alan Sklover

Question: Alan: I recently read one of your blog posts entitled “Avoid the Obsolete Job Trap,” and it got me to thinking. As a veteran solo business lawyer based in Fairfield County, Connecticut, I was wondering if you could please elucidate for me your recommendation on new legal niches . . . and further resources I can seek out on what you mean by “water law” and “selling digital content on the internet.”

Stamford, Connecticut

Answer: Steve: Your question is a great one – in fact one that nearly everyone these days has on their mind, to one degree or another. I am no expert, but I am fascinated with “what is going on” in this respect. Here are my thoughts:

1. For a variety of reasons, on a worldwide basis, it seems to be getting increasingly difficult to make a living. I am not the only person who believes that it seems to be getting harder to locate and maintain a secure livelihood. It’s the same in every business, every profession and every income level. Looking at countries all over the world, it doesn’t seem to be too much better anywhere you look. Perhaps it is the globalization of the world economy, perhaps it is computers and other machines replacing personal service, perhaps it is the effects of the internet, perhaps it is the last gasps of a possibly outdated economic order . . . I am not sure. But it surely does seem to me that people from Cairo to Chicago, and from Greece to Greenwich, and from Pakistan to Peoria are having a harder time locating and maintaining a secure livelihood with which to feed, house and educate their families. Whether this is a temporary or long-term phenomenon, we still all have to deal with it in the present.

2. Notice that large organizations of every kind often miss emerging trends and new opportunities. In every segment of every society, social organizations tend over time to grow and grow, often just for the sake of growth, even when there is no need for that growth. By “social organizations” I mean corporations, universities, charities, media companies, health care organizations, professional firms, and even religious organizations. And when they grow, they have a tendency to become increasingly impersonal, cumbersome and slow to adapt. Their large budgets require they appeal to large audiences, not small constituencies. It is everyone’s experience: it is very rare that you get personalized, specialized, or made-to-order goods or services from most large organizations. Instead, you must choose between “Press Button One for Pharmacy, Press Button Two for Ladies Goods,” or “Item 8 on the Menu.” They must appeal to the thousands of customers, not the few, and therefore must limit themselves to offering only products and services that will sell to millions of people, not the a dozen or two.

3. But the “problems” and “weaknesses” of others can be your “opportunities” and “advantages.” It is simply amazing how one’s perspective can change one’s life. While some people see and bemoan the problems of the world, others see the problems of the world as their own challenges, their own opportunities, and their own potential advantages. Problem: kids are not learning math. Opportunity: if you work in the education field, open up a tutoring service, or suggest your employer do so. Problem: people are increasingly unhappy about the level of chemicals in the public water they drink. Opportunity: consider opening up a water-testing, or filtering, company. Problem: your employer’s sales are going downhill. Opportunity: be the one and only person who takes the time and initiative to contact former customers to ask them why. Seeing the problems of others as your opportunities is a key to success in any field, because one way or the other, we all make a living satisfying the needs, wants and desires of others, and unfulfilled needs are where growth will take place.

4. For individuals and small groups of people, “niches” are an important career, professional and business strategy. Large organizations tend to miss the narrow and newer opportunities all around us, what is commonly referred to as “niche” opportunities. Whether in employment, the professions or small businesses, there is a valuable lesson here: look for human needs and desires that are not being satisfied by large institutions, and become either the person who does so, or the first and only employee in your company who does so.

Problem: Sadly, the incidence of autism is on the rise. Opportunity: If you are the only lawyer in your state who “specializes” in the legal rights of parents of autistic children, you will be busy and secure for a very long time. Likewise, if the neighborhood where your employer’s business is located is seeing the beginning of an influx of immigrants from a certain country, be the first to carry some of the goods and services desired by that new neighborhood demographic. Niche opportunities – for employees and for entrepreneurs – arise every single day, and they are all around us.

5. To locate valuable niche opportunities, start with demographic changes. Let’s say you are a real estate lawyer and because of the housing crisis and poor economy your real estate law practice is in the doldrums. No one is buying houses. No one is leasing new offices or stores. No one is building buildings. But think about it: Isn’t it true that more and more people are unmarried but living together? Isn’t it true that more and more young people who can’t find jobs are moving back in with their parents? Aren’t many seniors moving in with their adult children because they can’t afford nursing homes? Maybe you can develop a niche expertise in “agreements between co-habitators” to address division of responsibilities and liabilities Is it possible that compatible small businesses in hard times can “share” storefronts with each other? If you develop ideas and ways to take advantage of those “problems” of others, individuals, landlords and smaller business tenants may all love your services. If small businesses are having a hard time paying the rent, perhaps you could offer a service that negotiates lower rents from landlords for a percentage of the rent saved.

Once you have located and tested any one of these potential “niches,” it can become the centerpiece of a new, and perhaps revolutionary, “real estate law” practice. Write articles, offer seminars, start a website. You could be the first attorney in this new field of law, even the field’s “pioneer.”

By the way, I often refer to “water law,” as I see the scarcity, quality and availability of water to be growing human concern and a potential looming crisis, in which “experts” in the field – including attorneys – will be in significant and long-term demand. I have also noticed that “content” on websites and blogsites is becoming something of a tradable commodity, capable of being exploited by many different online businesses, but without for the moment any “brokers” who specialize in the field. These two “problems” seems especially ripe “niches” for investigation and possible development.

6. Sorry, I know of no real experts to consult; to locate and exploit “the riches of niches,” the best “guides” are an open mind, an adventurous spirit, and a willingness to take a risk. I have heard that there are centers of entrepreneurship, and even colleges that offer programs in becoming an entrepreneur. I rather doubt that there can be courses or programs to teach people how to locate and evaluate niche areas of employment, professions or businesses. Rather, I would suggest reading several magazines and newspapers each day, and consider what it is people are concerned about, what people are dissatisfied about, and what people want more of that they can’t seem to get. Then it’s just a matter of figuring out what you have within you – intelligence, compassion, creativity and discipline chief among them – that you can use to satisfy that human need or desire.

Finding and filling a niche in your workplace, in your profession or in your business field is a potential key to success in a world increasingly dominated with mega-stores, mega-hospitals, mega-donut shops, and mega-everything else. For employees, professional people, and small businesses, niche focus is a key strategy, and I recommend it without limit.

Thanks, Steve, for writing in. I hope this is of help to you.

Al Sklover

Is a Friend facing a problem at work? Great Gift:  Model Letters for Job Loss, Severance, Resignation, Bully Boss, or Performance Improvement Plan. Just [click here] to view our list.

P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls). Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.

Repairing the World –
One Empowered and Productive Employee at a Time ™   

© 2012 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

Alan L. Sklover

Alan L. Sklover

Employment Attorney
and Career Strategist
for over 35 years

Job Security and Career Success now depend on knowing how to navigate and negotiate to gain the most for your skills, time and efforts. Learn the trade secrets and 'uncommon common sense' of Attorney Alan L. Sklover, the leading authority on "Negotiating for Yourself at Work™".

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