Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Archives for April 2012

3 Steps to Identifying Your Key Customer. Advice for Writers, Entrepreneurs, or Everyone?

Creative Independence by Nattu via Flickr

Who is your target customer?  Its a question I hear as a new writer, and one I often asked in business settings.   It’s a fundamental question about people, that touches and issues of focus, values, and priorities.  I asked marketing guru Dan Janal to write a guest post on the subject.  

When I coach my clients, and I ask them who their key customer is.  They usually say, “Everyone.”

That’s because they honestly believe that their message can help everyone.  And it probably can.

The trouble is, the market doesn’t like solutions that appeal to the masses. Today, people want their own customized solution, or at least someone who is an expert in their industry.  The key to winning that business is to focus on the prospects who are your best fit.

Here are three questions I ask my coaching clients to explore so they can find their best prospects and their idea customer.

Question 1. Who do you like to work with?

Yes, it is all about you. Why shouldn’t you work with people you want to work with?  Why not find people who get you and understand you, people you like and understand?  What could be worse than dealing with a person who is the epitome of everything you hate? If you are going to work independently, you find someone you like to work with.  If not, you might as well get a job.

Question 2. Who are the people who like to work with you?

Let’s face it. We’re not a perfect fit for everyone. Some people don’t like the fact you won’t work past 6 p.m. at night, won’t take business calls on weekends and won’t cut your rates to rock bottom just because they asked. Who needs them? I’m sure you can find lots of other attributes you hate in clients (i.e. Type A personalities, people who can’t make decisions, people who don’t pay their bills on time, people who see the negative in everything, people who don’t praise your work. You get the idea.) Who needs them? Life is too short to work with jerks.

Question 3. Can they afford to pay you?

Just because you can help everyone in the world doesn’t mean you have to help everyone in the world. Some people will not want to pay your full fee or can’t afford to hire you. Your skill set might help the people just out of college just as well as it helps the vice president who wants to move into the president’s office. Who has more money to pay you? Unless your passion is to help people just out of college, go for the gold.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help the college student if that’s where your heart is. In fact, if you follow your heart, you’ll feel fulfilled, which might be better than money.

Helping people who want you to help them and get paid a fair wage  – Isn’t that what running your business is all about?

Dan Janal coaches authors, speakers, consultants and small businesses who want to become thought leaders and the obvious choice.  For info on his service, go to


Walmart Gets Busted: Three Observations About Values, Bribery, & Business Strategy

Walmart Idol

Walmart’s spokesman, David W. Tovar, responded to reports of bribery and a quashed internal investigation in a video posted on Walmart’s website on April 21st.

“If these allegations are true, this is not a reflection of who we are and what we stand for.”

What a crock.  If these allegations are true, they reveal exactly what Walmart stands for – revenue first, people second.  A company that puts revenue in front of people is hardly unique, but Walmart’s blatant disregard for the law is a bit stunning, even for someone like me who busts corporate idols on a regular basis.

As a quick recap, the New York Times reported on April 21st that Walmart spent more than $24 million dollars in a bribery campaign in Mexico to rapidly become a top retailer in the country.  The bribery was exposed in 2005 to Walmart senior management, who quashed the internal investigation and failed to inform law enforcement authorities in Mexico or the US.  The story is detailed and complex, drawing on interviews and hundreds of internal company documents.

Values are not about words; they are revealed by deeds.  By observing  who gets rewarded and who is disciplined, one can get an accurate picture of a company’s value system, and the values of the people who work there.  Here are three of my observations:

Observation 1: People who displayed company-first values were rewarded

Edwardo Castro Wright, who became Chief Executive of Walmart de Mexico (Walmex) in 2002, had a strategy –  “to build hundreds of new stores so fast that competitors would not have time to react.”  Executives were given aggressive revenue growth goals that required the building of new stores, and were required to do whatever it takes to get permits.  And a key tactic was bribery.  Bribes “accelerated growth. They got zoning maps changed. They made environmental objections vanish. Permits that typically took months to process magically materialized in days.” (NY Times April 21, 2012)

Wearing my marketing hat, I can appreciate the beauty of the execution.  A $24 million dollar investment led to a $368 million in revenue this quarter alone. Too bad the strategy was both illegal and immoral.  The Foreign Practices Corruption Act (FPCA) makes it illegal for US executives to bribe foreign officials.  And as I will comment further below, bribery for business is not a victimless crime.

From a business and career standpoint, Mr. Castro Wright’s strategy was spectacularly successful for both Walmart and his career.  Mexico’s revenue growth has repeatedly been cited by the company as a model of Walmart’s successful international strategy, and today Castro Wright is the vice Chairman of Walmart.  In 2005, Michael T. Duke was in charge of Walmart’s international business; today he is CEO.  H Lee Scott, who was CEO of Walmart in 2005 and ultimately made the decision to bury the investigation; today he is  on Walmart’s board of directors.  And yes, Scott knew about the bribery allegations when Castro Wright and Duke were promoted.

Observation 2: People who investigated the bribery charges were punished

Not everyone went along with the decision to hush up the bribery scheme.  There was an ongoing battle over the course of months about how to investigate.  Some people, like Maritza I. Munich General Council of Walmart International, and Ronald Halter, a former FBI agent, diligently pushed the investigation towards a conclusion that would have brought in law enforcement.  However, they were opposed at every step by heads of the business units, who called them naïve about the realities of international business, and accused them of being “overly aggressive” in their investigation.

Values drive priorities and decisions, and when push came to shove, the investigation was taken away from the independent unit and given over to the general council of Walmex (one of those accused of wrongdoing!).  Not surprisingly, the investigation ended quickly, with a report that accused the whistle blower of corruption.  (The Times article shreds this report, citing numerous factual errors, misstatements and omissions.)  To their credit, both Munich and Halter resigned from Walmart and now have fruitful careers elsewhere.  I salute them both for sticking to their values.

Observation 3: Bribery is illegal for a reason

Ok, I admit it, when I first read the story, my reaction was “Corruption in Mexico, and the news is…  I did an informal poll of other business people in the Bay Area, and found a somewhat blasé attitude towards foreign corruption.  Bribery is how business gets done in Mexico and parts of Asia.  (All done through consultants, or in the case of Mexico, “Gestores” – translated as “fixers.”)  But my attitude changed after I read the following comment  from “Richard” after the article in the Times

I live in Mexico. It’s racist to say, “What’s the problem with being corrupt in Mexico? That’s the way they do business there.” A lot of us are breaking our necks to change the part of the business culture here that involves corruption . It affects us negatively, and permissive attitudes towards corruption don’t help our effort.

I bristled when I first saw the charge of racism.  “That doesn’t apply to me.”  Well if not racism, then what is it?  I would not stand for bribery of American officials (No snickering about the current campaign finance system please).  So why is it ok in Mexico?  It isn’t, and I need to acknowledge the shortcomings in my initial reaction.

Richard’s comment went on to describe the departure of a French supermarket chain because they did not wish to participate in the bribery and could not compete with a company that did.  “When they left, it was a loss for us all, because it was one competitor less.”  Less competition means higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.

Corrupt officials in Mexico do far more than simply expedite building permits.  Mexico is a country rife with crime, where an estimated 80% of murders go unpunished, and many rapes go unreported.  More than 50,000 people have been killed in an ongoing drug war, where local police are often linked to the drug gangs. And while business corruption may not directly cause police corruption, it is not unrelated either.  It is not a comfortable thought.  But corruption is not inevitable, and we have choices.

As the case of Walmart shows, paying the bribes can be a good investment from a business standpoint, at least in the short run.  It will be up to the government whether they bring criminal prosecution.  Sadly, the track record of prosecution is not strong, with little jail time for offenders of the FPCA.  (For more, click here.) More and more American’s will be faced with issues of foreign corruption if current trends of globalization continue.  Corruption is a big issue, and there is no middle ground.  If we choose to turn a blind eye in our business practices, we become part of the problem.  If we choose to do the right thing, even if it leads to slower revenue growth, we are part of the solution.

Should we do the right thing to avoid jail, or should we do the right thing because it is the right thing to do?  It is my hope that they throw the book at Walmart, and more importantly the individuals who broke the law.   Making an example of wrongdoers today will make it easier for everyone to do the right thing tomorrow.  And with globalization, that person being asked to “do what it takes” to grow the business in a foreign market may be you.  How will you handle it if and when that day comes?


Your Money or Your Life? Would You Take a 20% Pay Cut For Three Extra Years of Life?

 On this tax day, let me ask you one of my favorite questions.  Would you take a twenty percent pay cut in exchange for three additional years of life?  And I don’t mean three years on a respirator; I mean three additional healthy years.

It’s a question about values and priorities. Which is more important to you, your money or your life?  The comedian Jack Benny, who played a notorious cheapskate on the radio in the 50s, was asked this question by a robber, and there was a long, drawn out silence. “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”

I asked my version of the question to a number of people making healthy six figure salaries, and the answers varied.  For some people it was a no brainer.  “I’m used to being poor.  We didn’t have much growing up.  Three more years [after the kids are out of the house?]  Sure!”  Others anxiously informed me that they couldn’t possibly take a pay cut.  It’s an unusual question, I’ll grant that.  But I was still surprised how some people shut down when the idea of less money came up.  (For the record, when I asked people not making healthy six figure salaries the question, they thought I had a lot of nerve.  I think it was because they really couldn’t afford to make less money, whereas the people who got anxious probably could survive a pay cut, but didn’t want to think about what that would mean for them.)

The Devil’s Starter Package: Would you take a promotion with a 20% pay raise if it shortened your life by three years?

The true deal with the devil is trading one’s eternal soul for great wealth today.  This is kind of in between – somewhat more wealth, but a shorter life.

What about a promotion, and a 5% pay increase three years in a row, with the expectation that you do what it takes to make aggressive timelines.  After three years, your salary will be about 20% higher.  It’s starting to sound less hypothetical.  Now lets add in this interesting statistic: Health care costs are 50% higher for top executives than middle managers.  Now part of the higher health costs may derive from an age difference (executives tend to be older than middle managers), but in my opinion the higher costs come from a stress difference.It is no secret that stress increases the risk for a raft of serious health problems including heart disease, sleep disruption, depression, obesity.  And,  stress really can cause hair loss.

I have a friend who had a stroke at the age of 47 – he had been working 100 hours per week.  If I had not changed the priorities in my life, that could have been me.  Stop a moment and ask yourself – have you taken the Devil’s Starter Package, more money in return for a shorter life?

Make Health The Highest Priority

Let’s clarify.  I don’t think anyone should make it a goal to make less money.  An alternative is to make personal health a higher priority than making money.  My friend has fully recovered and has changed his life.  He goes to the gym every day, is changing careers, and is moving into a smaller house.  He still makes six figures too.  Just not quite as much.

Ozzie Guillen, Free Speech, and Corporate Values

Baseball Cropped from Image:Baseball.jpg by Tage Olsin under Creative Commons License

Baseball Idol - see note for attribution info

Miami Marlins  manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended five games by the team for making the comment that he “loves Fidel Castro”  in a Time Magazine interview.  Guillen apologized in a tearful press conference, explaining that what he mean was that he admired the way Castro has stayed in power despite the fact that he is hated by much of Cuba’s population.

What amazes me is the number of people who feel that Guillen was exercising his Constitutional Right to Free Speech, and therefore the Marlins have no right to discipline him.

Excuse me?  There is no constitutional right to work for a particular employer, and there is no prohibition against a private employer suspending or firing an employee for something they say.

Working for a company is a tacit agreement to follow the company’s values, whatever they may be.  Ozzie Guillen works for a company whose customers hate Castro, and therefore praising Castro goes against Marlin’s values.  I am not going to weigh in on whether Guillen should have said what he did.  But the Marlins are a business, and they suspended him to show their customers that “The pain and suffering caused by Fidel Castro cannot be minimized.”  Part of adopting company values is accepting the rewards and punishments that come with that value system.

I am reminded of something a CEO told me about running a company.   “Your life is not your own. You are driven by being a lot of things  that are broader, about marketing the company to the financial community.”  Guillen in many ways like the CEO of the Marlins.  He is the public face of the organization.  He is paid millions of dollars by the team, and for that money he forfeits his right to speak in public in a way that the company doesn’t like.  What applies to Guillen applies to executives and employees throughout the corporate world.

In fact, I think I once lost a job because I called out someone powerful in a meeting.  To be honest, I didn’t really mind being let go, and I understood that I was putting my job on the line when I spoke up.  Whether this was right or wrong of the company is immaterial.  (And I should say that I have no direct evidence that this is why I was included in the next RIF.)  A company is most effective when everyone is on the same page, and it could be argued that someone who publicly dissents from the leadership should be let go because they are taking away from the common purpose.  I know there are a lot of Harvard Business Review articles saying that stifling dissent is a bad business strategy, and I agree.  Nevertheless, retaliation for speaking out is reality that employees  deal with every day.

Different companies have different tolerances for criticism of the company officers.   But few if any companies will tollerate an employee who speaks or acts in a way that is harmful to the company bottom line.  Ozzie Guillen’s suspension is a great example of the arbitrariness of company values.  Guillen made similar comments about admiring Castro two years ago when he was manager of the Chicago White Sox.  Admiring Castro does not conflict with White Sox values because few White Sox fans really care about Castro.  But publicly admiring Castro does conflict with Marlins values, because Marlins fans care a lot.

I suspect that if Ozzie Guillen paid more attention to people-first values,  he would have been more sensitive to the feelings of the Cuban-American community about Castro.  Plus, someone with strong people-first values would not admire a dictator for his ability to stay in power.  Some people around the world admire Castro for providing universal health care and a good education to his people.  But admire him for staying in power?  C’mon Man!


Passover, Work, and Corporate Idolatry

Passover, Work, and Corporate Idolatry

Remember This Day by Tim Sachton via Flickr

In this season of Passover and Easter, I’ve been thinking about work.

The Last Supper was a Passover Seder, which is a ritual meal that tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  In many ways, Passover is like Thanksgiving, in that family gets together, and remembers a historical event.  What is particular about Passover is the detail in which the story is told, how Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  Participants in the Seder are exhorted to make a personal connection to those freed from slavery.  There is a lot to connect to.  This year I connected to my own experience of going from a 90 to a 60 hour work week.

Passover is all about freedom

The Exodus from Egypt is a seminal event in the history of the world, remembered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims who together account for over half the world’s population*. The Exodus, although less salient for the worlds 1.3 billion Atheists, has been highly influential on the secular world as well.  Harriet Tubman, hero of the Underground Railroad was nicknamed  Moses.  So imagine my surprise when I found that a sizable portion of the Israelites wanted to return to slavery in Egypt.  Why?  Why after generations of slavery, when finally offered the chance at freedom, would anyone want to return to slavery?

The voices to return to slavery were particularly acute at times of uncertainty, when the Hebrews were trapped against the shores of the

Edward G Robinson as Dathan

Red Sea, or when Moses was absent for forty days and the people began to doubt whether he would return.  There were two types of people who argued for a return to Egypt.  The first were self-serving people like Dathan, who collaborated with the Egyptians and betrayed Moses to Pharaoh for personal gain. When later exiled by Pharaoh with the rest of the Jews, Dathan continued to advocate for a return to Egypt, presumably so he could regain his wealth and privileges.  (Dathan was played by Edward G. Robinson in the movie The Ten Commandments.)

Most people who wanted to return to Egypt were not self-serving, but simply afraid of change and/or the uncertainty of the road ahead. The Dathans of the world prey on the fears and insecurities of other people.  Dathan argued that servitude in Egypt would be better than death in the desert.  I can’t help but notice the way that Dathan positioned slavery as mere servitude.  I am reminded of the way some of my former managers would spin things to encourage me to work over the weekend.

Freedom from chronic overwork

Over the course of one year, I went from working 90 hours per week to working 60 hours per week.  My job title never changed, but my boss did – seven times that year.  Not one of my seven managers said “Greg, you are working too hard.  Let me take this off your plate.”  I needed to liberate myself in the midst of a chaotic and highly political environment. The details of that year are a story for another day, but what was key was a revelation that my devotion to the company was a modern form of idolatry.  I realized that “doing what is best for the company” was an adoption of a company-first value system, and this Corporate Idolatry was at the expense of my family and my personal health.  By reconnecting with people-first values, I was able to drastically cut back my working hours.

Idolatry was very much a part of the story of Exodus.  Not only were the Hebrews enslaved, they worshipped the Egyptian gods.  The story of Passover makes it clear that the Hebrews were not freed from slavery until they cried out to the one God for freedom. On a metaphorical level, Passover is the story of people who chose an uncertain future that carried the promise of freedom over the known path of slavery.

I made as much money working 60 hours as I did working 90 hours. In a sense, I was working those extra forty hours for free.  I obsess about those 30 hours, in part because I think working for free is a form of slavery.  Why did I do it for so many years?  But that too is a post for another day.  Today, I am thankful that I am free.

*For more information on the number of people in different religions, check out The Big Religion Chart, which lists the world Jewish population at 14 million, Christians at 2 billion, Muslims at 1.3 billion and Atheists at 1.1 billion.

If you like “Passover, Work, and Corporate Idolatry” you may also like Discover How I Avoided Burnout, an excerpt from my book Busting Your Corporate Idol.