Tag Archives: Norma Shirk

Thanksgiving in America

In two days, Americans will gather for the annual Thanksgiving feast.  Thanksgiving is a very American holiday because it is associated with the best and worst of our society.

The first Thanksgiving was held before the U.S. actually existed as a country.  In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated with the Wampanoag Indians. The Pilgrims were English settlers who fled Europe in search of religious freedom.  They were saved from starving by the local Wampanoag tribe who helped them adapt to their new neighborhood.

What happened next? The Pilgrims discriminated against anyone who was not a Protestant in the Puritan image. That meant English Quakers had a rough time in New England. The Pilgrims also rid their new neighborhood of the “heathen” Indians using methods that today would be designated as ethnic cleansing.

Thanksgiving was designated a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. Why did he decide to create a national holiday? By 1863, the American Civil War had dragged on for three years. The south was losing the war but the north wasn’t clearly winning.

Lincoln needed a win and Thanksgiving was a symbolic victory. It also allowed him to reiterate his message of binding the country together by using the day to “heal the wounds of a nation.”  His aspiration was never fully realized as we see with today’s political divisions on issues of race, gender equality, religion and immigration.

In 1939, Thanksgiving was moved to the fourth Thursday in November by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Why the fourth Thursday of the month?  The Great Depression was grinding on and FDR hoped to increase retail sales by creating more shopping days before Christmas. Today, early sales begin on Thursday and end with the Internet-crashing sales on cyber-Monday. American capitalism is obscuring the purpose of the holiday.

But in spite of the rampant commercialism and the ugly elements engaged in race-baiting, gender bashing, and anti-immigrant claptrap, Thanksgiving shines through.  In two days, people will gather to eat turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, fish tacos, burritos, turnip greens, cornbread, fry bread, sushi, ramen noodles, curries, or hotdogs and hamburgers. Whether kosher or halal or nothing in particular, we’ll all enjoy the feast.

Our annual feast has evolved as our society has evolved. That’s the best tradition for an American holiday.   Happy Thanksgiving!

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

 

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I Wanna Live Forever!

Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu had many adventures together. Then Enkidu died. Gilgamesh was inconsolable with grief and loneliness. But he was also afraid of his own death. So he wandered endlessly in search of the secret to never dying.

Gilgamesh’s story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written between 2150 – 1400 BCE.  It was the first major piece of literature in the western world, predating even Homer’s stories about the destruction of Troy.  Gilgamesh was a mythical king of Uruk, a Sumerian city-state in what is now Iraq.

His story may have been written over 4000 years ago but Gilgamesh was not so different from us today.  We are still looking for the magical elixir of life.  Gilgamesh hoped the gods would tell him the secret to immortality but they never did.

Today, our “gods” are the allegedly scientific studies on the benefits of exercise and food.  I say alleged because the studies usually provide conflicting advice and are often sponsored by industries that have a stake in the outcome.  Consider how the definition of “healthy” food changes constantly.

Years ago a study told us not to eat eggs because they have cholesterol which is bad for us. Then a study told us that eggs are loaded with protein; so they are good for us. The poultry industry celebrated.  Another study told us sugar is bad for us. Then a study arrived claiming that lab rats died from consuming saccharine and other sugar substitutes.  Suddenly sugar is good for us again. Sugar beet farmers and sugarcane refineries rejoice.

Along with diet, we’re told to exercise regularly. What does “regularly” mean? One study tells us to exercise until our hearts are thumping and we’re soaked in sweat. The next study tells us that we can achieve excellent health and long life from as little as fifteen minutes of daily exercise.   Recently, a BBC news story cited a new study which claims that prolonged sitting will kill us no matter how much we exercise.

What no one ever admits is that if we live forever, we’ll outlive all our friends. Then we’ll be as lonely as Gilgamesh was after Enkidu died.  Instead of agonizing over living forever, I’ll support a scientific study that says we should enjoy life with our friends, our favorite foods and exercise when we feel like it.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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When Should I Quit?

when-to-quit

I was raised to believe in perseverance and not giving up. Quitters were often labeled as losers who gave up too soon and therefore never achieved success. Think of childhood sports, like T-ball or soccer, where the coach and parents scream at the children to keep trying even when it is obvious their team can’t win.  No one wants to be a quitter.

The dilemma of whether to quit becomes riskier when one reaches adulthood. Adults who quit are often risking the loss of a job, ending a marriage, or losing money on a failed business venture. The emotional burden is much more severe than losing a kid’s game.

I’ve spent years of misery in jobs I hated before finally accepting the obvious fact that my values were incompatible with my employers. I’ve continued supporting ventures that sank faster than the Titanic because I didn’t want to be branded a quitter. But at some point, our “gut reaction” can’t be ignored. We need to accept that failure is probably the only realistic option.

Recently I’ve been struggling with the decision to quit a commitment I made less than a year ago. True to my usual form, I spent months stewing about it before I finally asked my trusted friends to help me decide what to do. They asked three questions.

  1. What goal am I trying to achieve? I joined an organization because I believed in their mission. Unfortunately, they were already in crisis and I realize now that I was recruited because I have skills that could help them resolve their problems.
  1. What support do I have to achieve the goal? I knew the answer to this question, but had been delaying accepting it. I lack support from the organization because key insiders are comfortable with the status quo and afraid of what change means for them personally. I can continue to suggest needed changes but my perseverance won’t change their resistance.
  1. What will I gain by quitting? Quitting would end the emotional toll of trying to change an organization that doesn’t actually want to change.

There is no bright line test to know when it is best to persevere and when it is best to cut one’s losses and quit.  Asking trusted friends or family for advice is a great starting point for making the final decision because their vision is not clouded by the emotional attachment that makes it difficult for us decide.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com.

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Was Duchamp Really An Artist?

 

duchamp2Marcel Duchamp is considered one of the brightest artists of the 20th century.  Not to me.  I pretty much hate everything he did and wouldn’t pay a plugged nickel for any of it.  But that’s okay because it’s my opinion.  Art is subjective. If a piece of art doesn’t “speak” to you emotionally, it’s not worth a plugged nickel.

I learned that lesson from an English professor who taught a class in Renaissance English poetry. (It was the only English class that fit my schedule that semester.)  At first, none of us wanted to voice our opinion on the poetry we were reading because we didn’t want to sound gauche or uninformed.  Then the professor told us that any work of art, regardless of the medium used, only has value if it speaks to us emotionally.  Without that emotional connection, art has no value.

Years later I was invited to a special exhibit in Dallas, Texas of the private collection of one of the city’s leading citizens.  The collection was a mishmash of Benin sculptures, Anasazi pots, Mayan knickknacks, some random Asian artefacts and so on.  It was a 30 or 40 year history lesson in art collecting based on what the avant-garde defined as “art.”  The owner of the collection had buckets of money but apparently collected only what everyone else collected.

That brings me back to Duchamp.  This guy is famous for displaying three panes of glass.  When one pane of glass was broken during transit, Duchamp claimed he liked the piece even more. It’s still on display somewhere with one cracked pane.

Most famously Duchamp put a urinal on display.  Viewers proclaimed that it had classic lines rather than pointing out that it was a bathroom fixture that should be returned to the men’s room down the hall.  No one wanted to be mocked by the avant-garde crowd for lacking artistic sensibilities.

It’s amazing how much guff and abuse we are willing to take to remain part of the “in” crowd.  Duchamp always reminds me of that human trait.  He not only convinced people that panes of glass and a urinal were “art,” he induced them to pay huge sums of money to own one of his pieces.  So I admire his chutzpah and think he was one of the greatest marketers of the 20th century.  But, in my opinion, Duchamp was not an artist.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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Finding Inspiration in Losses

soccer-panoramic

I am constantly searching for examples of how other businesses stay successful despite losses. Examples are everywhere, but one of my favorite examples is Southampton Football Club (Southampton FC).

Southampton FC is based (obviously) in Southampton, England and it plays in England’s top football (soccer) league, the English Premier League.  Each year the club loses their best players to rival clubs with more money to spend on acquisitions. Each year they lose their head coach (manager, in England) to rival clubs.

Any business that consistently loses its best performers would be expected to slide into oblivion.  Southampton FC temporarily appeared doomed to such a fate. In 2008, Southampton FC was bankrupt and demoted. They began the 2009/2010 season in the third tier of English football. (By comparison, the U.S. has two tiers of professional soccer.)

Then a group of new owners bought the club and initiated two key strategies. First, they brought financial stability with a cash infusion and a new team of experienced financial advisers to run the back office. Southampton’s problems were apparently rooted in poor financial practices.

Second, the new owners reinforced the existing corporate culture of the club. The club has a reputation for developing young talent. Their corporate culture requires everyone from the youth academy to the senior players to use the same system of training and learn the same game tactics or style of play.  That may sound like a no-brainer, but an amazing number of businesses try to change their corporate culture each time they choose a new manager.

Southampton FC hires managers (coaches) that fit their system. The corporate culture is so resilient that each year the manager changes and the top players are sold but the club remains competitive.  It’s called “the Southampton way”.

By the 2012/2013 season, the club had played its way back into the English Premier League and has finished in the top ten every year since.  Other businesses now regularly travel to Southampton to study the club’s business model.  Southampton FC’s four-year journey from loss to success is truly inspirational.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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A Christmas Truce

a-christmas-truce

December is a difficult time of year for many people.  December can be especially lonely for soldiers who are far from home.  In 1914, lonely soldiers caused one of the most extraordinary Christmas events.  They (briefly) stopped the First World War.

The impromptu ceasefire began on December 7, 1914, when Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary ceasefire so that the soldiers in the trenches could celebrate Christmas.  The governments of Britain, France and Germany refused to observe an official ceasefire.

It’s not clear why they said no, but there were probably two main reasons for refusing a ceasefire.  First, no one was tired of the war.  In December 1914, the war was only about five months old.  The major slaughters, like the Battle of the Somme when a million men were casualties, didn’t happen until 1916.

Second, and I think more importantly, the governments opposed a ceasefire out of fear.  Specifically, fear of fraternization.  Soldiers are better able to do their job of killing the enemy if they don’t know their enemy.  It’s why we demonize our opponents as a faceless “other” and use derogatory nicknames to dehumanize them.  If a soldier sees the enemy as human with a family and personal aspirations, it becomes difficult to shoot to kill.

Consider the line “from a distance, you look like my friend, even though we are at war.”  It’s taken from an anti-war song called “From a Distance.”  The song became popular during the First Persian Gulf War in the early 1990’s and it evokes a universal sentiment.

In 1914, the soldiers in the trenches ignored their governments and saw the enemy as a friend.  On Christmas Eve, they sang Christmas carols to each other across no-man’s land.  On Christmas Day, they crossed no-man’s land to exchange food and talk of their families back home.  In one instance, they played a game of football (i.e., soccer).

After Christmas, some of the soldiers decided they couldn’t return to war.  One anecdote says that some French and German soldiers refused to fight each other.  Their commanders threatened them with all sorts of disciplinary action to no avail.  Eventually, the affected French and German units were pulled out of their trenches and sent to fight in other sectors.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 has never been repeated.  As wars continue around the world, that is one of the saddest commentaries on this holiday season.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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From First Lady to FLOTUS

eleanor-roosevelt-2

When the founders of the U.S. created the office of President they didn’t waste any time on the role of the First Lady.  That’s not surprising.  The founders were all men and in the 1780’s, married women were expected to keep quiet, have lots of babies and not interfere in politics.

Martha Washington was the original First Lady and she followed the social standards of her day.  She hosted salons, genteel affairs where the upper crust of society could hobnob with the President and members of the Cabinet.  But she stayed firmly in the background and had no political opinions.

The women who succeeded Martha Washington are mostly cyphers forgotten by history.  The one exception in the 19th century is Mary Todd Lincoln.  She is remembered because she had a dreadful life in the White House.

Her husband was despised by half the country, including many northerners and Mary lacked the political smarts to be an asset to him.  Her political follies could fill a book. For example, she decided to redecorate the White House and was shocked when journalists attacked her for wasting money on new curtains and china while the country was at war.

She also endured personal tragedy.  Most of her family sided with the Confederacy which led the newspapers to brand her a traitor living in the White House.  She lost her son Willie to a lingering illness.  The crowning sorrow was the assassination of her husband.

For decades after that, First Ladies kept a low profile until social standards changed the role of women.  The epitome of the modern First Lady is Eleanor Roosevelt.  She entered the White House with her own political agenda.  She wrote a daily newspaper column arguing for labor rights, an end to racial segregation, and much more.  She was so busy she developed her own office and a staff.

Since then, each First Lady is given an official staff and expected to support her own causes. Recently, she even became an acronym: First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS).  However, First Ladies must still avoid being too overtly political.  Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton were criticized for interfering in politics.  As a result, First Ladies tend to support “women’s issues” such as children’s health and education. Michelle Obama supported healthier lifestyles to reduce childhood obesity.

It will be months before the in-coming First Lady defines her role as FLOTUS. She certainly has a wide range of role models to choose from.  But her choices may be more limited than other recent First Ladies because the last time an incoming president was this unpopular was 1861.  The only certainty is that the newest FLOTUS will mirror some aspect of current social standards for women.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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Four Reasons to Celebrate the Battle of Hastings

dover-castle

October 14th was the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.  The town of Hastings is most famous these days as the setting for the television series “Foyle’s War.”  Back in 1066, William the Conqueror invaded England and fought King Harold near Hastings.  William won the battle when King Harold died after he was shot through the eye with an arrow.

There are many reasons to celebrate the Battle of Hastings today.  It truly did change the course of history.  Here are four of my favorite reasons for celebrating it.

  1. The English language changed forever when Norman French was combined with the early English spoken by Anglo-Saxons and Danes (of the Viking invasions). That’s why we have so much duplication in modern English, such as “sheep” and “mutton” for the same animal.
  2. Popular tourist sites were built by the Normans. The White Tower in the Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror.  Windsor Castle (the current queen’s favorite home), Dover Castle and Richmond Castle were all built by the Normans.  In fact, they were such prolific builders “Norman” castles are an architectural style.
  3. The Domesday Book gives us a snapshot of the economy and people of medieval England and parts of Wales. The book is a census compiled in 1086 on the orders of William the Conqueror.  Thanks to this “Great Survey” we know who lived in England, where they lived and what property they owned.
  4. The Bayeux Tapestry is a beautiful work of art that tells the story of the battle. Its style is instantly recognizable and constantly imitated as in the opening credits of the movie “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.”  Recently a group of enthusiasts created a final scene showing William’s coronation, which is missing from the original tapestry. The new addition is called the Alderney Bayeux Tapestry and it’s gorgeous.  See for yourself at alderneybayeuxtapestry.com.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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Launching Your Business

open

Launching a business is much like planning a military campaign.  It requires research and planning to achieve the goal.  A business owner must research whether there is a market for the new business’ product or service and then plan to achieve the goal of running a successful business.

There is plenty of advice on launching a business, much of it contradictory since there are so many variables to consider.  What legal structure should I use to protect my personal assets?  How much market research should I do about my service or product?  Who is my target market and how do I let them know I’m open for business?  It’s all very confusing, even with the best plan.

That’s because the best plans fail.  There’s a famous military axiom that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” (substitute “the market”).  In business this axiom means that you need to plan well but be prepared to adjust quickly.

For example, I launched my business with a service that I thought would be a winner.  However, within a few months I realized that I had misjudged the market.  So I revised my entire business and re-launched it.  A few years later, a key client walked away and I had to revamp my services and re-launch again.

Creating a great product or service is just the beginning of the effort to launch a business.  A business owner also needs to understand the competition.  In military terms, it means knowing the topography over which the attack will be launched.  For example, military planners avoid attacking directly into a strongly defended position.  They prefer flanking attacks to catch the opponent in a weak spot.

For a business owner, this means knowing what your competitor does best. There’s no point going head-to-head with an established competitor unless your product or service is significantly better.  Inertia and draconian cancellation policies tend to keep people locked in to their existing vendor’s services.

When I think back to the launch of my business, there are two major tasks that I wish I had done differently.  First, I wish I had researched the market more effectively to avoid wasting so much time on a service that didn’t sell.  Second, I wish I had given more thought to how I would deliver my services.  Marketing is not my strong suit.  I could have avoided a lot of heartache by admitting the obvious and outsourcing these tasks much sooner.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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The Gig Economy

Gig Economy

When I was growing up, everyone was expected to work a 9 to 5 job with a pension, health care and other fringe benefits.  Only deadbeats turned down a “real” job to do their own thing.  Of course, even then cradle to grave employment was already a myth.

Lifetime employment with one employer went the way of the dodo bird in the 1970’s as the U.S. economy began opening up to international trade.  The auto industry, the bedrock of lifetime employment and gold-plated benefits, was the first to feel the shock.  To compete, the U.S. auto industry automated factories which meant they needed fewer workers.  That led to labor strikes and everyone blamed the Japanese auto makers for “stealing” American jobs.

In the 1980’s, President Ronald Reagan pursued his dream of “small government” which translated into de-regulating many industries.  That lowered costs to consumers but it also meant job losses.  One of the deregulated industries was trucking.  That led to more labor strikes and the occasional murder of non-union truck drivers.  Union members and their sympathizers used high-powered rifles to shoot at trucks driven by non-union drivers.  I remember holding my breath as I listened to the evening news, wondering if one of my truck driver relatives would be the next casualty.

In the 1980’s, companies automated many jobs to remain competitive.  They downsized and reorganized their workforces and cut their employee training budgets.  Today employers complain that workers are disengaged and lack loyalty to the company.  Here’s a news flash to employers: Employee engagement is not likely to come back.  Employees who are old enough to remember the 1980’s are not going to invest in a company that they believe won’t invest in them.

Millennials and Gen-Xers didn’t experience the wrenching changes of the 1970’s and 1980’s but their parents did.  So, in a sense, these younger workers grew up disengaged from their employers.  Rather than fitting into a box prepared by their prospective employers, they want to set their own hours and decide what work they will perform.

That’s not such a bad attitude because the economy has changed.  Our economy now thrives on technology that automates many jobs. Cloud-based software allows an entrepreneur to replicate an entire back office with little or no assistance.  Of course, this means that businesses large and small need fewer workers.  But it also means that the barriers to starting a business are lower which allows the self-employed and “gig economy” to grow.

A major concern is that government regulators are creating more rules that fit the old economy instead of the new “Uberized” economy.  Government service is virtually the only remaining industry with lifetime employment which may explain why the regulators are looking at the myth instead of the reality of today’s workplace.  Instead of more regulations, we need training programs to teach new skills to workers who have lost their jobs due to technological advances.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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