Posted by: vallonllc | December 19, 2010

The Great Thaw?

The economy has been in the deep freeze for a long time. It’s not just the financial fundamentals that have been frozen. It’s also been the mindset of many businesspeople that I’ve talked to over the past three years.  

I heard many reasons for businesses not to act. It started with leaders saying they were waiting for the Presidential nominations from the Democrats and Republicans. Then, it was waiting for the results of the election, followed by uncertainty about the Obama transition, health care, and the mid-term elections. The favorite reason for business inaction now is the lack of clarity around tax policy.  

The freeze may have been prudent. Markets were shrinking. Credit was tight and the rules were changing. Any broad-based recovery seemed a long way away. Most importantly, there was no real cost to treading water. 

Now the game is changing as things begin to warm up. The economy is clearly growing. Unemployment claims are down. Economists are beginning to see upside risks in their forecasts. All of these changes are causing companies to come out of hibernation and take advantage of these initial thaws. If your competition is moving and you’re not, the gains they make could be at your expense. 

It’s time to find ways to advance. Where are the places you can begin to advance with minimal risk and cost? Are there still opportunities to improve present operations? Can you explore new markets? Are there initiatives on the shelf that hold promise? It’s time to execute on plans to improve top and bottom lines. 

Maintaining SkillsMany new growth approaches lower the risk of these initiatives. Using interim talent is one of those approaches. Interim experts have a quick impact with none of the usual hiring, engagement, or performance risk involved with using a consultant or hiring someone permanently. If there’s a hiccup with interim talent, it’s easy to correct and move forward.  

There’s also a huge upside to using interim talent. You can engage great talent for specific requirements. Great talent means great results, putting your organization in terrific position to take advantage of a thawing market. 

The thaw is here. Are you ready to take advantage of it?
























Posted by: vallonllc | December 12, 2010

Are You Secure? Do You Know Your Value?

The employment markets are changing and the change continues to accelerate. Unemployment is staying stubbornly high. Tenures continue to shrink. New technologies are moving to the fore. All of this combines to create a market more volatile than most of us have seen in our lifetimes.

It’s critical to know your own market value. You are likely to change jobs and find yourself in transition. This becomes more likely – statistically – the longer you remain in a job. It also becomes more likely that you will overvalue yourself, because annual raises may price you above the market and your ability to assess your skills declines the longer you are with an organization. 

This was driven home to me again this week. Two of the 20 people I met this week were in that position. First was a former CIO who had no experience with Cloud Computing or perspective on social media. The second was an attorney with excellent experience, but no focus around a personal brand. Both are struggling in transition because they are out-of-sync with their true market values. It will take an inordinate amount of time and effort for them to catch back up with the market – if they ever can! 

Three elements pull people out of alignment with market value: Competence, personal brand, and salary. It’s easy to overestimate personal competence when you are in an organization because it’s difficult to find objective measures of your skills. It’s also difficult to develop a personal brand because teamwork and cooperation are such highly valued qualities. Finally, salary adjustments tend to be an automatic, annual events, only tangentially related to market value. These three elements can quickly disconnect a person from understanding their true market value. 

So are you clear about your market value? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are my skills relevant, current, and in the top quartile of my profession?
  • Am I clear about my personal brand – how I create value?
  • Is my compensation in-line with others in my profession?

Be honest. Try to find an impartial judge. Make sure you know. 

Otherwise, you are at risk!


Posted by: vallonllc | December 5, 2010

What’s Your Life Story?

I met two new friends this week: Pete Machalek and Dean Hyers from Sagepresence. Their company uses principles from the entertainment world to develop poise and improve performance under pressure. We met at the Vallon offices this week for a terrific discussion about improving your odds for success in today’s market. 

At Vallon, we push people to develop their own personal brand: Be able to tell us who you are, how you create value, what you’re looking for in under 30 seconds. Dean and Pete added a twist to the plot: a Life Story.

Sagepresence encourages people to write their own Life Story. It’s a forward-looking story about their own life. The writer gets to play the title role and set the direction for the remainder of the play. This play sets out the life themes and path for the foreseeable future. 

The exercise provides the framework and process to outline major decisions and actions in your life. It’s an opportunity to gain clarity around what you want for yourself. Concrete goals and desires are critical for any good plan, but it’s essential for a dramatic story. The plot also provides a way to clearly understand how you will make a difference for others in your life. The plotline provides action and a way put activities into a clear order.

Setting clarity around your own desires is critical to write a meaningful plotline for your Life Story. Super networker Anne Pryor puts intention into her life through four different categories: Spirituality, Success, Relationships, and Health. I think she has it about right. Writing intentions on each of these areas provides the underlying direction needed for a strong plot. 

The second part of the plot is focusing on what you will do for others. Dean and Pete ask, “How you will throw the light switch in other people’s lives?” These guys look to relight the burnt out and faltering candles in the people around them. Four questions from Talent Anarchy provide another way to approach the question:

  1. Do I know who I am?
  2. Do I know why I am on Earth?
  3. Do I know my gift?
  4. Is there any evidence?

These questions aid the transition from self to others and make it easier to think about how you fit in the cosmic picture.

Pulling together the elements of self and others makes it easier to maintain focus and drive in your life. A Life Story is one way to make that happen. 

Are you ready to write your own Life Story?


Posted by: vallonllc | November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!!

 The smell of stuffing is beginning to form. The sting of raw onions is being replaced by frying sausage and poultry seasoning. In a few hours, we’ll be sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner on a perfect winter day here in Minneapolis.

The usual rules apply: Watch football all day; Eat too much; and take some time to give thanks for all the blessings in your life. I’m sure you have a similar routine – well practiced and developed over many years. Follow the plan! Execute the routine! 

Then try something different…

 Yesterday was an interesting day for me. I heard from over a dozen friends – all sharing wishes for a great Turkey Day. It made a HUGE impact on me! Each call put a smile on my face and each email made the day a little brighter! It was great fun and caused me to make a few calls of my own. 

Here’s my challenge to you. Think of two or three people in your life who made a difference for you in the past year. Pick up the phone or turn on the computer and reach out. Find someone who’s not expecting to hear from you and make their day! Tell them how thankful you are that they are around. 

Make it a Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by: vallonllc | November 21, 2010

Uncertainty Freeze

I’ve watched a “business freeze” for the past three years, while trying to help my clients deal with the new economy. First, the excuse was, “We need to see how the Presidential Election turns out.” Then it was, “We need to see how the Obama Administration sets up.” These excuses were followed by health care reform, mid-term elections, and uncertainty about taxes. There seems to be no end to the reasons not to take action. 

One of my fellow Manchester Companies Alumna, Patty Smith, shed new light on the phenomenon for me. She was talking about the freeze that uncertainty puts on all of us. Patty reminded me that when we do not know what to do – are uncertain – the default action is to do nothing. It’s easier than resolving the uncertainly and safer than acting blindly. Doing nothing is OK when things aren’t moving. Right now, there’s evidence to suggest that it’s becoming a risky strategy. 

It’s important to start moving and taking action. The economy is clearly growing – slowly – but still growing. That growth is causing companies to look for new opportunities and take advantage of competitors’ hesitations. Are you one of those looking for opportunities? Or are you waiting for something to change? Don’t worry. It will. 

One of our clients gave us a new idea about how to address uncertainty. They are in the midst of a transformational effort that will leapfrog them over their competition. In the middle of their operations review, it became apparent that they needed a new approach, but became stuck in between creating an effective strategy and setting up a tactical plan. They needed someone who could build that strategy, but the same person may not have the operational chops to pull together the implementation. 

Rather than stop until they resolved the conflict, or forge ahead with the wrong person, they called Vallon. We will give them the best of both worlds: We will find the right resources to help them address their strategic needs and ultimately implement that strategy. The ability to have both talents will enable them to move forward aggressively – even in the face of uncertainty. 

We can help you thaw an uncertainty freeze. Our principals bring C-level insights to any business situation that help our clients sort through their particular situation. We can quickly provide flexible help to address complex issues. The Vallon interim approach provides a smooth transition to a permanent solution.

Let us help you thaw your uncertainty freeze!


Posted by: vallonllc | November 7, 2010

Are You Ready for the “Muddle?”

(A quick prelude…The Minnesota Summit on Ethics takes place on Friday, November 12th at St. Thomas University. If you are ready to take your own personal stand on ethics, please join us! Click here for more information. We hope to see you there!) 

The economy is muddling along. The recession is over, but growth is very slow – especially for a recovery period. There’s little evidence of a double dip; even less for strong expansion. The economy’s not going anywhere for awhile, so it’s time to make decisions and take action to improve your organization. 

Action is becoming critical for future success and survival. The slow growth path is very clear, but people are beginning to make their moves – positioning their companies for the future. Jobs are being created and the new quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve will put fresh money into the economy. Things are beginning to accelerate. 

The time to move is now! Uncertainty is now a fact of life and is creating new opportunities every day. It’s time to stop waiting and take advantage of the situation. Your competitors are looking for those opportunities. The company who finds them first, moves with new initiatives, and creates momentum will come out of these times in the strongest position. 

Uncertainty in the marketplace makes flexibility key. Action is the key to take advantage of opportunities. Many promising opportunities may not blossom. The ability to reverse field and react to changing situations will be critical to success and survival. 

People are always the most critical resource. They are a big investment and it’s critical to find the right talent…fast! Unfortunately, traditional hiring processes do neither well and contain a significant amount of risk. 

Interim talent addresses these shortfalls. The right partner can find the proper talent quickly and eliminate the hiring risk involved with bringing new people into your company. Interim talent also enables you to reverse field if opportunities don’t materialize. All of this frees you up to take aggressive action in uncertain circumstances.  

The muddling economy is beginning to move. Are you ready to take action? Interim talent can make it easier.


Posted by: vallonllc | October 31, 2010

Why Work Sucks

Our work lives tend to revolve around time and place. Traditional views of work focus on the amount of time spent working and being in a place where you can be “seen” to be at work.  Rewards, recognition, and value are set around these two elements. This focus sets a lethal trap. It tends to create an environment more concerned with fairness and equity, rather than action and results.

Workplaces tend to have a preoccupation with time and place. They measure dedication based upon the amount of time invested and determine quality of work by visibility. Both preoccupations undermine any kind of focus on results. 

Are you ready to change?

Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson wrote Why Work Sucks, a terrific book that outlines the principles of a Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE). The ROWE operates with a total disregard for time and place. Instead, that preoccupation is replaced with a laser focus on results and the customer. The new orientation transforms the entire organization and creates an entirely new, more effective way to run the business.

It sounds great on paper. Everyone wants results…right? The ROWE requires attacking sacred cows and hidden rules. Think about what this really means. Are you (let alone your whole company) ready to completely ignore time and place when it comes to work? Are you ready to toss time clocks and allow everyone to come and go as they please? Converting attention away from time and place and toward results and customers takes strong convictions – and an unwavering ability to hold a difficult position.

It’s a big task, but so is the impact. The new focus shuts down the grapevine and the sniping that goes along with it. Instead, chatter centers on new and better ways to reach customers and improve the company. The approach creates more cooperation, more action, and less clutter.

Are you ready for a change? 

Posted by: vallonllc | October 24, 2010

Taking Your Stand on Ethics

Everyone is for ethics. They fall in the categories of Mom, apple pie, and the American flag. No one stands up and takes a stand against high ethical standards.

Still something is amiss…

Here in Minneapolis it was another week of watching the antics of Denny Hecker, trying to convince a Federal Judge that he had no idea where $200,000 went this summer. It went on as his lawyers then tried to make the case that he should be released so that he could find the missing receipts. Let me get this straight: Hecker “misplaces” the receipts and then we should reward his shenanigans by giving him back his freedom? Good grief!

Hecker’s story is certainly not the only high-profile case in the Twin Cities. Tom Petters fraud case and Trevor Cook’s investment scam also made the headlines. Nationally, we have Bernie Madoff, Mark Hurd, and the scores of personalities around the banking crisis to serve as bad examples. Sliding ethical standards allowed each of these people the room to operate. Scarier is the willingness of other leaders to defend some of these actions as “not that serious” or “necessary evils.”

The willingness of business leaders to tolerate unethical behavior must stop. We are entrusted with the control of many of the world’s resources. Our calling is to be good stewards of these resources and we should take that calling seriously. If we fail to respond, the government believes their calling is to protect citizens from unethical businesspeople. They are already taking action and will continue to tighten their grip – not what any of us want.

It’s time to take a stand!

Adults have already formed their ethical standards and approaches. We can only have limited impact on these folks. Deterrence and prosecution are the tools we can use to limit damage.  

We do have the opportunity to influence our youth and make sure that high ethical standards become an integral part of their lives. They are the leaders of the future and can be shown and taught that ethics do matter.

It’s time to take your stand!

Hank Shea

On November 12th, a group of concerned leaders will hold an Ethics Summit at St. Thomas. Former prosecutor Hank Shea will lead a morning of activities designed to start the discussion on how we can make ethics an integral part of our youth’s development. Join us as we explore ways to mobilize the Twin Cities to consistently bring ethical considerations to the fore. Invest twenty bucks and a morning of your time to the cause.

Register on-line (by clicking here) or contact Sara Paul at or (651) 338-1302 to be a part of the movement!

Posted by: vallonllc | October 17, 2010

Focus in a Different Light

Usually, I don’t see new graduates when I’m networking. Our business doesn’t deal with entry-level positions, so my network is not much of a help. I also worry about providing too old a perspective to these twenty-somethings.

I met with Andy because he’s a fellow Badger and asked for my help. He graduated in June, with a newly-minted degree in Marketing from Wisconsin. Andy’s bright, enthusiastic, and looking for his first real job.

Focus is one of the critical elements in any job search. Having a clear value proposition and a distinctive personal brand positions the hunter to find the best opportunities. Part of the process is to understand the situations where the searcher’s talents and temperament are most leveraged. The effective combination of these elements provides the fastest results to any transition.


"Purrfect" Focus

Andy was struggling with the same focus issue we see from most people in transition. He has wide interests and has done some interesting things. His Marketing degree gave him a broad picture of the field and the possibilities open to him. Andy’s lack of experience also hurts him in two ways: he has no career expertise to leverage and no understanding of what he doesn’t like to do.

Lack of focus is not uncommon in the people I see, but Andy’s state is mitigated by two factors. First, Andy is young, with few obligations and needing life experiences. Second, he is financially secure. These two factors broaden the possibilities open to him, and caused us to talk about focus in a different way.


Andy has an opportunity that few of the rest of us have. He has the luxury of time and the flexibility to explore multiple paths. We put together a plan where he will identify and outline several different possible opportunities to pursue. This will include an expeditionary opportunity – with the Peace Corps, Teach America, or another non-profit. These paths will provide the basis for solid networking connections. That’s the key for everyone; making those 10-15 face-to-face meetings per week and making your brand visible throughout the market.

Personal brand and networking are the critical elements in any career move. The people we see landing the best jobs are persistently and consistently in the market and creating their own opportunities.

How are you doing?









Posted by: vallonllc | October 3, 2010

Networking: It’s Still About Listening!

I attend an incredible number of networking meetings. Some are groups. Some are one-on-ones. Some are regular meetings, and some are one time only events. Through them all I am always amazed by the way people inadvertently hurt themselves by not allowing people to help them. They forget to ask, they forget to listen, and they block people from helping them. Listening is critical, as well as asking good questions. Too many people talk too much and stop the flow of good information and help.

We can never listen enough. These changing times demand that we should always be in learning mode. Studies show that over 85% of what we know we learned through listening and we can’t listen while we’re talking. Average retention of what we hear is less than 25% and many of us don’t do that well.

Listening takes a great deal of patience and focus – things in short supply these days. We are all anxious to jump into conversations and add our own voice to the discussion. It takes restraint to let discussions find their own way and listen for the bits of information that lead to the right places. Listening is always the best action in a networking session.

Of course, listening isn’t always possible. The next best course of action is asking questions. The best thing about questions is that they are usually shorter than statements. They shorten the amount of time spent talking and pull information from the other people in the meeting. Good questions also pull wall flowers into the discussion and get even more input to the situation. The process opens up possibilities and doesn’t limit the conversation.

Of course, there are times when it’s necessary to make a statement. The trouble with statements is that they can become monologues. When you find yourself rambling – stop! The best statements clarify or confirm positions, rather than establish new ones. Take time to restate what you heard or summarize a conversation. Resist the temptation to be brilliant or particularly insightful. Let others do that. Remember, when you’re talking, you’re not listening!

It’s amazing the number of people I see hurting themselves by talking, rather than listening or asking good questions. Talking cuts off discussions and limits the flow of information. Talking can inadvertently constrains the scope of conversations. It allows plugs airtime, restricting participation and shutting out people who can help. All of this can lead to false conclusions and missed opportunities.

Make the most of your networking meetings. Be patient and listen. Allow the conversation to find its own rhythm. Ask good questions to pull more people and information into the discussion. If you do need to make a statement, keep it short and use your statements to clarify situations and confirm positions. These steps maximize the opportunities for other people to help you.

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