Hire an MBA by the hour

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Tired of getting gouged by consulting firms? BusinessWeek recently profiled a new site called Skillbridge where you can engage consultants by the hour or on a flat fee basis for prices that are much more reasonable than firms like Bain or McKinsey. Or, you can rent out a qualified candidate as opposed to hiring a new employee.

A growing number of companies are using freelance MBAs to access the same brain power they might find at a top-tier consulting firm. The demand has given rise to online marketplaces that are a cross between executive search agencies and freelance job sites—where the featured contractors are skilled at financial modeling, competitive analysis, and marketing.

The site claims that every consultant is screened and has a minimum of two years’ experience. For small companies and startups, this looks like a nice option to have.

It also offers a nice career option for consultants who are sick of the long hours and endless travel.

Cutthroat professional life in Washington, D.C.

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Netflix scored big this year with its new, original TV drama “House of Cards,” depicting life in Washington D.C. Needless to say, the cutthroat nature of life in our nation’s capital takes center stage, as most of the characters will do anything to advance their careers and influence in the city. Yes, it’s fiction, and some of the stories are a bit far-fetched, but a recent book called “This Town” by New York Times Magazine writer Mark Leibovich portrays DC as a craven town where everyone is just focused on getting ahead. You can get some of the story in his latest article titled “How to Win in Washington.”

It’s not that Washington hasn’t forever been populated by high-reaching fireballs. But an economic and information boom in recent years has transformed the city in ways that go well beyond the standard profile of dysfunction. To say that today’s Washington is too partisan and out of touch is to miss a much more important truth — that rather than being hopelessly divided, it is hopelessly interconnected. It misses the degree to which New Media has both democratized the political conversation and accentuated Washington’s myopic, self-loving tendencies. And it misses, most of all, how an operator like Kurt Bardella can land in a culture of beautifully busy people and, by trading on all the self-interest and egomania that knows no political affiliation, rewrite the story of his own life.

So read the entire article and the book and check out the show before you venture off to DC. This way you’ll have some idea of what you’re getting into.

But keep in mind that you’ll be one of many if you venture off there. DC is booming and life there was detailed in an article last year in time called “Bubble of the Potomac.” The author explains how a new affluence is flooding DC and likes to refer to it at über-Washington, working off the name of the popular Uber limousine app that is so popular in the city. This affluence, along with the natural political power base, has helped amplify the competitive climate described above. The article describes some of the realities in the city:

- there are two government contractors for every government worker. Yes, people are getting wealthy on government contracts.

- Washington is filled with young people. That’s always been true but seems even more true today. That culture is definitely affecting the nightlife and the city in general.

- Thursday night wheels up parties at Happy Hour are huge.

- Much of this is fed by the intern culture, which starts with free internships during college, then paid internships or entry-level jobs, and then it goes from there.

For may this will seem exciting. For others not so much. It’s another example of where you need to have your eyes wide open before making a decision.

Unassigned desks and new trends in company offices

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The world is changing as more workers prefer to be mobile, and companies are adjusting by radically changing the layout of office workplaces.

More companies are shedding square feet by shifting workers into unassigned desks. Being untethered suits increasingly mobile employees, but it can be a hard sell for people who feel like they’re losing status or privacy. For employers, the rationale is simple: saving money, attracting young employees and popping personal bubbles to push collaboration.

Nowhere is that more evident than the Ernst & Young Tower in downtown Cleveland, the city’s first new multitenant high-rise building since 1991.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young, which moved into the tower last month, placed more than 60 percent of its employees into a “hoteling” pool — a group that flits in and out of the office and uses an online system to reserve desks. Even the partners share offices.

The cost savings and improved flexibility are huge advantages with this movement, though it will be interesting to see over time how these changes affect worker productivity, recruiting and retention. One aspect that seems cool is the ability to reserve spots electronically. This can also apply to premium conference rooms, or just hanging out and using the room when it isn’t reserved for specific business.

Jobless rate falls

Stocks jumped on this news as the report was expected to be bad. Again, the Labor Deportment made significant upward revisions to reports from previous months.

Overall the unemployment rate is at a 4-year low of 7.5%. Of course there’s a long way to go but at least we’re making some steady progress.

Telecommuting issues emerge at Yahoo!

There are may significant advantages for a company letting workers telecommute and work remotely. Productivity often increases as this flexibility makes workers happier. In today’s world, it’s important for a company to offer this option for some jobs.

Yet there are disadvantages when you don’t have workers together on a consistent basis. It’s impossible to replicate the casual environment of workers being together at lunch and around the office. Much gets done when people are together.

Every company needs to strike the right balance, and that’s what Marissa Mayer is trying to do at Yahoo!, but her recent announcement has sparked a backlash.

Here’s a clip:

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

Just reading this, it seems like this could have been handled better by bring up the issue and looking at specific jobs. As stated above, balance is best.

But I suspect the problem may have gotten out of control at Yahoo! and that has prompted Mayer to take a hard line. Workers can be very productive at home in terms of how much they work, but it’s harder to keep workers focused on what’s best for the company if they are always at home.

It will be fascinating to see how this story develops.

Considering job swaps


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There are all sorts of new management ideas and trends these days, but the idea of the job swap is very interesting, and possibly very useful.

One morning in May Nadim Hossain drove to work, sat in a weekly sales forecast meeting, met with the marketing team, and gave feedback on ad messaging. Only it wasn’t his office, his job, or even his company.

À la the TV show Wife Swap, Hossain, then vice president of marketing at San Francisco-based PowerReviews, was in the midst of an executive job swap. He traded roles for the day with Jon Miller, VP of marketing and co-founder of San Mateo, Calif., software firm Marketo, hoping to gain some insight into his own role by experiencing someone else’s.

It worked. Since PowerReviews — now owned by Bazaarvoice — is a Marketo customer, Miller came away better understanding the issues facing chief marketing officers. Hossain, for his part, returned to PowerReviews with pages of notes on ways to motivate his sales team, woo big brands, and identify leads. “A fresh environment is always a good way to generate new ideas,” Hossain says.

Check it out and then consider this for members of your team.

Time to update your management techniques

Management practices are evolving. Check out this provocative article from Inc. and ask yourself if you need to update the way you manage people.

Here’s my list of “old school” practices you ought to chuck, and “new school” practices to champion instead:

1. Out: Micro-management, or the need to control every aspect of your company. In: Empowerment, the ability to give your people some rope–even rope to make mistakes without blame.

2. Out: Management by walking around the office; it is no longer enough to be visible. In: Leadership by watching and listening, engaging in conversation, implementing the ideas presented to you, and distributing the results.

3. Out: Pretending you know everything. You don’t have all the answers, so why try to make people think you do? In: Knowing your leadership team members and trusting them. Choose great people who have the right skills and fit the culture. And get out of the way.

4. Out: No mistakes, or a “no tolerance policy” some still think works. In: Learning from mistakes, or being the first to admit an error.

5. Out: The balance sheet drives the business, and informs all other decisions. In: People drive the business, boosting customer loyalty, and profit.

Check out the rest of the article for the remaining 5 items. I think this is a great list that will make you more effective with your team and also help you relate better to today’s employees.

Open-ended vacation policies

The lines are blurring between work days and off days, along with workplace and home environments, as technology makes us more accessible. One trend emerging has to do with open-ended vacation policies.

Unlimited paid vacation is the new trend, as you encourage workers to be responsible and take the time off they need. This makes workers more productive. The idea is a Results-Only Work Environment. Not many companies are doing it, but it’s becoming popular in the tech field.

Are you using social business tools?

The image above isn’t practical for all businesses. For small, virtual businesses to larger corporations, getting workers around a table to solve problems or implement new procedures is just not an option. teleconferencing can help, but social business tools can be even more effective.

When Red Robin Gourmet Burgers introduced its new Tavern Double burger line last month, the company had to get everything right. So it turned to social media.

The 460-restaurant chain used an internal social network that resembles Facebook to teach its managers everything from the recipes to the best, fastest way to make them. Instead of mailing out spiral-bound books, getting feedback during executives’ sporadic store visits and taking six months to act on advice from the trenches, the network’s freewheeling discussion and video produced results in days. Red Robin is already kitchen-testing recipe tweaks based on customer feedback — and the four new sandwiches just hit the table April 30.

Facebook’s initial public offering Friday — the largest by a technology company — is a watershed moment for the consumer side of the Web, but social networking’s real economic impact might be ahead as companies learn how to harness “social business” tools.

These corporate social networks can be an incredible tool for companies of all sizes. Just imagine the impact all of this can have on innovation and productivity in your company? The social media revolution is just getting started and it will impact your career and workplace as much as your personal life. Don’t get left behind.

The rise of Enterprise Social Networks

As social media impacts our personal lives, it also affects us at work as well. It also offers opportunities for the workplace, particularly in larger organizations.

We see everyday what’s possible with social networks for improving customer engagement and experiences? Can the same be done with internal social networks for improving employee engagement and experiences?

In the many years of helping businesses align business objectives with social and new media strategies, there is one thing that always introduces difficulty into the equation, employee engagement. At some point in the development of any strategy, employee and stakeholder input is critical to ensure relevance and ultimately success. While social media may more often than not live in the marketing department, it affects the entire organization and as such, requires a centralized approach to leadership and management combined with a distributed platform for communication and learning.

Enterprise social networks (ESNs) are on the rise as they can deliver an immediate solution for aligning stakeholders around activity streams with the familiarity of Twitter or Facebook. These internal social networks are not only validating and useful to power users, but also friendly and easy to participate in for those who are new to the platform. While the promise of ESNs is significant to the future of how employees interact, learn, and ultimately work, challenges exist around adoption and overall measurement. And, like social media in general, businesses often underestimate or altogether miss the true potential of social networks and the role they play in bringing people together to do something incredible…over and over.

Read the whole article as it lays out the many benefits for connecting your team through an internal social network.

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