Get Yourself to the Greek – and Get Connected

May 10, 2011 4 comments

I was at my best friend’s wedding last weekend and when she made her speech she thanked her bridesmaids and laughed about how ironic it was that when we were in college (10 years ago) during sorority prefs, we used to always say, “I know these friends and sisters will be the bridesmaids at my wedding”; and there we were. So I started thinking about Greek Life and how different my college experience would have been without it. I realized that being in sorority had not only introduced me to the people I’m closest with today, but more importantly set me up for the successes I’d encountered in the future.

Like many people, I was defiantly “anti” sorority when I got into the University of Florida. I thought joining a sorority was for people who “had to buy their friends” or couldn’t network on their own. What I realized during my time in college was that the Greek system was actually a microcosm of the corporate world. Looking at statistics, it now makes sense to me that Of the nation’s 50 largest corporations, 43 are headed by fraternity or sorority members. I understand why Nationally, 71% of all fraternity and sorority member graduate, while only 50% of non-members graduate. And why 85% of the Fortune 500 key executives are fraternity or sorority members. It was not because they had bought friends; it’s because being part of the Greek System lends you an experience in networking that is unmatched anywhere else.

When I was at UF, there were about 50,000 students (on campus); but what I noticed over “Summer B” (everyone in FL schools goes to school over the summer) was that the people who were running things on campus – from Cicerones to politics – were all part of the Greek System. WHat I also noticed was that even when I went out; the businesses were run and managed by people all wearing Greek letters. I felt like I was surrounded by “Greeks”. So I listened to my mother and went through sorority rush. NOTHING could have prepared me better for going into an interview process in the job world. Day one and two consisted of interviewing with women; 8 houses / day for 40 minutes each / sometimes speaking with 3-5 women in each house. Each house had a different ‘mission’ (similar to a business’s mission) and I had to attempt to show how I would ‘bring value’ to a house as well as help grow their vision. Sound familiar? It was like an onslaught of group interviews. Cuts had been made after round 1 and it was clear I had been cut from the houses I had been most uncomfortable in. A similar process continues for rounds 2, 3, and 4 whereby houses ‘show off’ their philanthropies, their GPAs, and try to find if their house is a “good match” for you. Once again, similar to the interview process, the conversations get deeper with each round and by round four, I knew which house was for me.

After getting the house I wanted (GO AEPHI!), the learning experience was magnified. Similar to a large training class in a new company, I was not learning about the values, mission, and what was expected of me with 60 other women. I also had to learn very quickly how to get along with not only the 60 differing personalities in my pledge class, but the other 200 women in my sorority. Talk about learning patience, tolerance, and appreciation for people’s differences of opinions. Like any company, the sorority has an “exec board” (C level team). There is a President, VPs, and usually a total of 10 roles that keep the sorority running. Much like a company, there were decisions made on the executive level that were not in agreement with the house; I learned how to play politics quickly. I also learned that in order to have an impact on the larger ecosystem – the University of Florida – I would somehow have to maneuver my way onto that exec board.

Being on exec was an unmatched experience. Holding a leadership position for 200 + women was far harder than any management role I’ve held to date. It takes incredible discipline to walk the fine balance of putting the ‘sorority’ as a whole before the interests of your closest friends. But it taught me how to do what I do today; I can put the interests of a company before my own and before the relationships I have made in the office and sometimes out of the office. Similar to being part of a C level team in a company, you define the mission, execute on that mission, and ensure that the rest of the house is ‘on the same page’. It was part management and part sales; and looking across the members that were on my exec. board – ALL are now extremely successful, either owning their own businesses or making 6 figures in a legal or corporate career. I firmly believe our experience on the exec board aided in this process.

While many may disagree with me; they listen to the stories of the hazing and the ‘date rape’ drugs and all of the other outliers that do not define the Greek system, but are actually the opposite of what the system stands for (one offs), what one can’t disagree with is data. And data shows that being a part of the Greek system leads to higher graduation rates, higher GPA, a higher likelihood of getting a job, and a higher likelihood of holding a leadership role when older. My first recommendation to someone going to college: “Get in with the Greek”.

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Office Relationships – Personal, Professional, or Both

April 20, 2011 30 comments

One of the key differentiators for Gen Y is that we enjoy working with those we have relationships with. This has been documented and proven; and great managers are able to build these relationships. Even TIME magazine cites, “Friendship is such a strong motivator for them that Gen Y workers will choose a job just to be with their friends.”
But – what “type” of friendship is the “right” one to build?

I’ve been told numerous times to keep my professional and personal lives and relationships separate. But I don’t agree. I choose to work with individuals for the same reason I choose to build relationships in my personal life: shared values. And I firmly believe that it is a rarity to find someone who thinks and feels as you do, so when you do find that combination – why limit it to a ‘professional’ relationship? And thinking about it – what IS a professional relationship and what is the difference in a personal and professional relationship?

I guess some would say a professional relationship limits conversations to more business speak; where as personal relationships and conversations can go anywhere from politics to religion and all through the spectrum. I’m unsure who everyone else has worked with, but the people I’ve worked with have certainly made their belief system known; and I like that. For me, “what you see is what you get” and I hope to work with people who are the same way.

Is it so wrong to spend time with work ‘friends’ outside of the office? To baby-sit their children? To engage in their personal lives? I don’t think so. And it hasn’t necessarily hurt me in the past. Or I should say, it has not hurt me anymore than it would if a ‘personal friend’ hurt me in some way.

I think we should look at professional relationships the same way we do personal relationships. If someone betrays your trust or does something you don’t like personally – if you have a close relationship – I think it’s okay to ask about it. If they do something professionally, I think it’s okay to do the same. I believe as long as one realizes that there may be an EFFECT (positive or negative) on a working relationship based on a personal issue or vice versa – one is realizing they are taking a chance on that. But knowing and being open to taking that chance is really (I think) how we find true life long business partners AND friends. If you don’t open yourself up to a full, real relationship – no matter what form it may take – you’re closing yourself off to what could be something magical.

Gary Vaynerchuk Practices What He Preaches

April 15, 2011 3 comments

I originally interviewed and wrote this article for my FORBES blog, but wanted to ensure my readers received as well.

How many of you have ever reached out via email, Twitter or phone to an Internet superstar?

I have. Before writing this article, I gave Gary Vaynerchuk a test. I wanted to see if he really responded to all people, to see if he’s truly “engaged” and how much he “cares,” regardless of whether you’re a client or not.

He did and he does.

I emailed, asking him if I could ask him some questions about his New York Times bestselling book, Thank You Economy. Within 30 seconds, I had a response. “Phone number?”

While I was not able to get back to him at that exact moment, I responded back with my phone number later in the day and, again, received a personal response.

And finally on 3/30/2011, Gary called. He was on his way to an interview on CNN and he had put aside time for me. We connected and spoke.

And I found he is just as true to his concept as he said he was. He cares.

Thank you Economy was written for all of us. In typical Vaynerchuk fasion, the book was written from the heart, engaging us with a passionate intelligence surrounding business relationships and transactions. It’s for first-time entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 executives, and the first of its kind.

TYE demonstrates the ROI on social media. It outlines the dangers of “waiting” to see short term results and, most importantly, it clearly depicts what we are in the midst of – a humanistic revolution.

When I spoke with Gary, his thesis was so simple; yet he has proven to be the best at executing on it: “Be reactionary,” he said. “React to what the market wants. And the market wants one-on-one real time engagement. Now that we have the tools to engage, I’m going to continue fighting for the end user.”

TYE puts into words what we’ve all been trying to define since the onslaught of social media: what’s the best way to use it? According to Gary, we have the opportunity to regress back to the days before there was a Starbucks on every corner or a supermarket every five miles; using the same tactic we did when there was a locally-owned butcher or coffeehouse. Care about your consumer.

So simple, yet the U.S. economy has been so focused on “driving traffic” and mass media over the last 20 years, we forgot about our consumer. We looked at the numbers, and the efficiencies, but we stopped listening…Except for people like Gary.

When I first started the book, I admittedly thought it may be a bit elementary. The content of the introduction and first few chapters spoke of brands in a very similar fashion I had read of in college or other business books. There wasn’t any mind blowing differences in the actual content.

But as I continued reading, I found that Gary’s secret is not in the content. His secret is in inspiring and motivating others to act. In the book, he does this not only through passion, but also through specific examples and case studies showing the ROI of one-on-one engagement.

His reason for working IS the end user or the consumer. The consumer’s voice matters and we all need to not solely except that, but embrace it and use that first consumer to build our companies. We can all SCALE CARING.

And Gary certainly cares of everything in his life with the same fierce passion he does his consumer. When I asked him how he found the time to even write the book, his response, “We all have a different definition of work/life balance. Spending time writing this book was not remotely close to how happy I am when I’m with my daughter. But we need to cut out the fat.”

In the same conversation, he beeped over to take a call from his mom; but he did not beep over for business calls. What was cutting out the fat? “Stop doing things that waste time. Don’t replace time with your family or things that you NEED to do. I NEEDED to put together two fantasy teams this weekend because that’s something I enjoy, but did stop playing Nintendo Wii for hours on end.”

Gary has become a master author, a renown social media expert, the fighter for the end-user, and still remains a family man – able to see all the Jets games and do everything else he loves. How? By caring for the consumer.

And if you want to keep up and learn how to do this with your company, your personal brand, your product, and yourself; you’ll read his book too. Don’t pre-judge like I did at the beginning. Just read and be inspired. And then commit to Care.

Meeting in the Middle

April 11, 2011 4 comments

My brother and I could not be seemingly more different. I say, “seemingly”, because it’s only on the surface we appear to have different beliefs and lead different lives. Over the years, what I’ve realized is that we have all of the same beliefs and values – they just manifest differently and at different times.

What I’m learning and I hope to impart to my readers is don’t push someone to be what you want them to be. It sounds cliche, and I’m sure we’ve all heard it before – but I’m living it. My brother is fiercely passionate about what he believes in; as am I. Like me, his passion can be a good or bad thing – our best trait and our worst trait. While he is a bit more socialistic, optimistic, and lives in the NOW – I’m trying to be all of those things. I’m capitalistic, think about where I will be in 6 months, and sometimes cynical about his beliefs; he may need to pick up on a bit of those traits -we are a perfect match.

So what I found this weekend is that when we meet in the middle – we are unstoppable. Our core values / our core beliefs are what matters; and our values – family, love, doing what we love, and driving our lives with passion – is what ties us together. All that said, I’d like to introduce a new blog; one that is similar to mine in that it works to make one pensive, teaches lessons, and is derived from a myriad of unmatched experiences, but different in that it is written by my brother – a far more compassionate and professional psychologist.

I invite you to share in my “better half”s blog and take a journey with both of us; he, a professional psychologist and thinker – and me, the savvy and aggressive businesswomen – and see how our core values manifest themselves through different professions.

Please read his opening / introductory post – Changing the World Through Altruism on his blog – Awaken Yourself Today, Sleep When You’re Dead; Perspectives on Positivity: Finding Happiness within Divine Dichotomy

You Can’t Compete With Passion

March 23, 2011 9 comments

What makes you stand out? What makes you different? What make you BETTER in your professional your personal life than others?

Passion.

Some people have it, only a select few know how to communicate or act on it, and most are too afraid to even feel it.

If you’re fearful of feeling something or believing in something so powerful it can bring tears to your eyes, this post is not for you. You’re one of the “afraid to feel” people and that’s fine! At some point, you’ll wonder why you climbed the proverbial ladder but never made it to “the top” or never started your own business.

For those of you who love being inspired, love inspiring, strive to be the best, know that you have “it” in you – you’re just not sure what “it” is yet – keep reading; this post was written for you.

Because people can’t compete with Passion.

4 Simple Steps:

Find Your Purpose

Everyone has a purpose. Your purpose may not be something you’re proud of outwardly, it may not be something others would find important – but it’s important to you. If you don’t know what your purpose is, seek out different people, different industries, new organizations; something will click. And when it does, you’ll know it. I never knew what I wanted to do in college; but I knew I was competitive and I liked to out think people (another way of saying that would be MANIPULATE). Because I was outgoing, everyone told me I should be a lawyer. I didn’t love the law, I didn’t have a passion for the law; but I aced my LSATs and got a full ride to law school – so I went. And proceeded to get A’s. And further proceeded to drop out – which was the best decision I ever made. Looking back, I guess I wasn’t quitting because I didn’t stop because it was too hard. I stopped because I didn’t like it. I wasn’t excited to wake up in the morning.

So what next? I ended up being referred to a job at Kaplan University. By the second day of a 2 week training course, I knew 3 things: 1) I would be really good at this job because I believed in education 2) We had ‘goals’ to meet, so it met my competitive nature 3) I got to be on the phones all day talking to people about themselves. This was perfect for me.

What I didn’t count on was the heart that went into the job. I consistently overachieved goals and was constantly asked and listened in on by senior management to see what it was I did differently; they didn’t find much. I used the same questions, similar responses…but there was one thing other people could not emulate – and that was the burning desire I had to help people better their lives through education. And yes, it sounds SO CHEESY – which is so unlike me; but it was true. To this day, I still know the names of the first few folks I enrolled, I still have letters and emails from people thanking me for changing their lives. Unknowingly and without trying to – I had found my purpose.

Purpose Drives Passion

And that purpose only served to heighten my passion. Being on the phone, I was only helping one person at a time; I wanted to scale that – I wanted to help more people back to school. So I trained others -and what I found was interesting. I could train many people to be average and above average – but only very few to “great” and it was at that point I learned the difference in being passionate about something and ‘just having a job’. Passion is not something that can be taught; it can be inspired for bursts of time, but it’s innate.

Passion Drives Success

I was becoming disenchanted with training; so when I was offered a role to work as a member of the Education Connection management team – I jumped on it. There’s nothing better than building a start-up and taking it through profitability, new product launches, and the intellectual banter and learning experience is worth any 3 corporate jobs. I worked for two men – to this day, still 2 of the only men I know – who knew how to direct their passion towards profit and do so while keeping their beliefs and remaining 100% ethical.

We had started an internet lead generation company, the only one / the first one at the time to drive students to go back to school using national television. Although we drove students to a website, we received 2-3 calls per day. Students had researched and gotten our contact information. Although I was constantly slammed with work, I took the calls. I missed talking to students. I took the calls because I knew that these students must be truly motivated to better themselves if they were researching and calling us. I spoke to the student; went back into my old role – to advise the student on the school that would best fit their needs. Once I had spoken with students and found a school and program that met their needs, I transferred the student directly to an advisor. Not only were the conversion rates 7 X that of the normal admissions conversion rate, but the students were so appreciative. I had found a way to take my passion, helping students, and bring that into my current role.

Innovate and Scale

But it wasn’t enough to help 2 or 3 per day. I told my CEO what I had been doing. He said, “Jamie – congratulations – you’ve come up with a new business model that’s never been done in the EDU space before. This is our new business. You have 60 days to build out this advising center, hire people who share our passion and vision, and train them to do what you do”.

And I did. I finally learned how to scale my passion. And it wasn’t only successful, it started a new lead type in the education industry. Don’t run from your passions; continue to work at them. Success will come; you may have to be patient, but finding your purpose, your passion, and continuing to embrace it – eventually you will find a way to make it a business. Keep w

“I’m Always Willing to Have a Conversation”

March 11, 2011 11 comments

Have you ever turned your nose up at an opportunity? I bet you have. And I bet there are some people who, as they’re reading this, are thinking, “no, I haven’t”; my comment to you is that you probably weren’t aware enough to realize that someone was offering you an opportunity.

In February 2011, I achieved a goal. In February 2010 I started my own business with 3 goals in mind before going back to the “working world”: 1) I wanted to work 40 hours / week or less 2) I wanted to prove to myself I could run my own business 3) I wanted to bring in “X” dollars in revenue. It took me exactly one year and I achieved all three. So now what?

Now I go back to the world I love so much; the world of working with others. Being an extravert, the past year has been incredibly difficult for me; consulting and being “with myself” from 9 AM – 6 PM everyday. But I did it. And I’m better for it. So, how does one get back into the work world? Most people are probably thinking, “duh – apply for jobs”. But no – that’s not my schtick. I know the stats. I know that 92% of jobs are found via connections, not uploading a resume. So, I embraced the stats and started calling around, making conversations.

And it’s been fun – it really has. I realized not only how many connections I had made – but more importantly, the depth of those connections; I didn’t network – I was a relationship builder. And the response was overwhelming. That said, there were certain opportunities that were thrown my way that I impulsively chose not to look at. I didn’t have any reason except that I “thought the job sounded too junior” or I “didn’t think I believed in what the company did”. Stupid.

So I’m on the phone yesterday with Linda – this rockstar Marketer that I “connected with” to work for over the year; while working together, I was impressed…and I’m rarely impressed – so I basically bothered her into a relationship. So we’re discussing jobs on the phone and I mentioned a couple of companies that had reached out to me and asked her opinion on if I should speak with them…I had already made up my mind NOT to speak with them, but I thought – eh, let me see what she would do. And her response, the same response I’ve heard multiple times from her was,

It’s always worth having a conversation.

So I started thinking back to other conversations we’d had and one thing that stuck out whenever I asked if she wanted to be connected with someone – she said, “I’m always willing to have a conversation”.

So I spent the rest of the day thinking about all of the conversations I had turned down and what a bad decision that had been. And I don’t mean just “career” opportunity conversations, but conversations with people in general. How many ideas, thoughts, and great people had I missed out on because I was NOT “willing to have a conversation”? My list was not too long, but it wasn’t too short either.

And then I went back to my first three jobs as well as all of my consulting work; I had never applied for anything – they had all been started with random conversations. My first job, at Kaplan, I was referred there by a high school friend I saw out at a bar. Within Kaplan, I went over to Education Connection based on a conversation about television commercials, and my last role, at HEH, I had been having a conversation with a friend who was in TX and bam – jobs for me and my husband. I could have easily ignored the friend from high school or walked away from the other conversations – but I didn’t.

So, while many things are left to chance – and I firmly believe that everything is purposeful – when you get asked to speak with someone; or maybe not even asked, but the opportunity presents itself – always be willing to have a conversation. Don’t snub your nose at something. You never know where it will lead.

Why “Tribe” Is The New “Job Security”

March 7, 2011 9 comments

One of the only blogs I subscribe to and read every time there is a new post; I’m honored to have Agent of Change, Josh Allan Dykstra, guest blog.

One of the most interesting things about the way work is evolving in the emerging world is how much of it seems to be a return to things we used to do before.

And I don’t mean “1950’s” before — it’s more like “50 A.D.” before.

The hyper-connection of the globe is having a fascinating effect on the way we approach relationships in the marketplace. It almost seems that the more connectivity we have, the more we become aware of a lack of real, true connection.

Brian Dunn, the CEO of Best Buy, once poetically remarked:

“An important principle that is often overlooked inside the boardrooms and offices where business decisions are made [is this]: The world was built on relationships between human beings.”

The more our digital networks expand, the more we rely on our “community” — our tribe, our people (whoever they may be; they may very well be “virtual friends”) — to recommend to us products, services, jobs, etc. The informational overload “out there” is just too much for us to do anything else. We need to find a manageable way to process life, and for most of us this means retreating to a natural group around us we trust enough to give us recommendations and suggestions.

At the same time this “tribal redux” is happening in our personal lives, we are also experiencing a transition in business. We are migrating away from old-school hierarchy and full-time structured jobs to the more fluid, organic, and virtual sphere of contract workers.

Much has been made of these two ideas, separately. But when we start to explore how these movements converge, we see something alarming. Namely, we see this: “Job security” as it used to exist is going extinct. It will be replaced by the strength and vitality of our personal network/tribe.

The deluge of constant input competing for our attention will only get worse, which will force us to rely even more on our personal networks. This increase in competition will also be reflected in the marketplace. You think it’s tough to find a job now without a connection on the inside? Wait another decade and see.

Thankfully, it will be a number of years before this transition is complete and what we used to think of as “job security” is gone forever, but the toothpaste is out of the tube. The days of being able to spend 35 years in a singular white collar sweatshop are long-gone, and they ain’t comin’ back.

But the bigger question is… do we want those days back?

I don’t think we do. What’s coming might be scary, but that’s because it’s different, not because it’s not BETTER.

Get ready for the new world of work!

(There’s a terrific article on how to build your network here.)

Josh Allan Dykstra is a consultant/author/speaker and agent of change. It is his mission to change the world by helping organizations become more vibrant and healthy places to work. His eclectic background spans Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Starbucks, and Viacom/CBS to startups, nonprofits, and government agencies. His new book, The Mosaic Mind: Understanding the Emerging Mentality That Will Destroy or Propel Your Business, will be released in 2011. Connect with him online at joshallan.com.

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