Tag Archives: career

2015 Photo Some Days – Winds of Change

The parking lot sits empty as CEC's former  home awaits a new tenant. 9.14.2015

The parking lot sits empty as CEC’s former home awaits a new tenant. 9.14.2015

Given my lunch meeting in Irving the other day, I took a few moments to drive around the office building that, until recently, served as the home of Chuck E. Cheese’s Support Center. I’ve enjoyed a successful and rather fruitful career thus far, and CEC is in many respects my favorite stop along my professional journey. During my tenure at CEC I worked with many wonderful people, enjoyed a particularly vibrant and employee-friendly culture, and helped deliver some pretty impressive results along the way.

Things change. In business, ownership sometimes changes as it did at CEC last spring. With that change came new leadership, new people, a new culture, and new opportunities. In my case as with many of my CEC friends, CEC’s ownership change led me to a  new opportunity with another firm. For many colleagues who remain at CEC it led to new digs and a new culture that holds the potential for some nice financial rewards down the road. I wish them well.

Tattered flags on the breeze in front of the former CEC Support Center. 9.14.2015

Tattered flags on the breeze in front of the former CEC Support Center. 9.14.2015

In a way, it’s a bit sad to see this parking lot completely empty with tattered flags flying outside the front door. Seeing those tattered flags blowing in the North Texas breeze reminded me that change, although sometimes painful and often inconvenient, can lead to good things if we simply open our minds and trust God for that next phase in life’s journey.

What’s changing in your life? What is your attitude towards that change? Keep your chin up and trust the Lord. And all will be well.

Risk Manager in Residence

 

IMG_0833The letter from the Spencer Educational Foundation informed me I had been selected by the Katie School of Insurance & Financial Services at Illinois State University to spend two days with their students as Risk Manager in Residence. I was thrilled! Then, as the reality of this commitment settled into my brain, I was humbled.

My ISU "home" for two days: The State Farm Hall of Business.

My ISU “home” for two days: The State Farm Hall of Business.

I have enjoyed a very fulfilling career, and the opportunity to share some of my experiences and wisdom with my industry’s future was quite an honor. Over two days I was to lecture in three courses, two sessions apiece. Tuesday evening I would deliver a presentation to which all students of the Katie School were invited. I wanted the content to be meaningful to the students, and the Katie School faculty was extremely helpful in sharing information on class size, majors represented, and course content thus far in the term.

I began preparing my material a few weeks before departure. My aspirations were grand: I wanted to teach, encourage and inspire these students. As I began preparing my first course outline, my brain froze. “Who am I to stand before these students,” I began to ask myself. “What if my content is too basic? Or too advanced? What if I’m boring? What if we don’t connect? What if…”

I hate self-doubt. Self-doubt is one of the greatest barriers to success that we place before ourselves. Looking back in hindsight, however, I realize this wasn’t really a case of self-doubt. It was more an acknowledgement of how important this program is to the schools and students who participate. I would tailor a message with content specific to each class I would address. And I would deliver a presentation Tuesday evening that would be informative, entertaining, and inspiring. I prayed to God that He would give me the words to say, and He did.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Central Illinois Regional Airport awaiting my flight home. I’ve received lots of positive feedback from the Katie School. I’m pleased that my offerings were well received and added value. Over my two days at the Katie School, I was given a glimpse into my industry’s future. The students I met were bright, engaging, articulate, and excited for their futures. They asked many insightful questions. They each have much to offer. The future for my industry is very bright, indeed!

As I think back over the last two days, I’m betting that, in many respects, I gained more from this experience than the students did. I leave Illinois State inspired and refreshed. I have a renewed vigor for my career, and I have a new set of young friends to keep me on my toes. I thank God for this experience, and I will continue to seek to honor Him with my work.

If you are a risk management professional, I strongly encourage you to consider volunteering your time and expertise to the Risk Manager in Residence program. Trust me: you will be blessed.

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The Art of Vacation

When is the last time you took a vacation? I’m not necessarily talking about an expensive trip to an exotic destination; I’m talking about a simple break from your daily routine. Merriam-Webster defines vacation as, “a period of time that a person spends away from home, school, or business usually in order to relax or travel” (Merriam-webster.com). Speaking strictly from personal experience, we all need to retreat from routine once in awhile to reenergize ourselves. Our minds need a break and our bodies need rest.

We work in an age of immediacy. People send email and expect a (sometimes unreasonably) quick reply. Instant messaging, a means of communication even more immediate than email, is becoming more popular at work. I’ve heard of 2-hour voice mail standards in some work places. Pile these communications on top of increasing workloads and multiple projects and we have created for ourselves a stressful work environment that leaves us exhausted at the end of the day. Multiply that day by weeks and then by months and, at some point, our minds and our bodies say, “Enough already!”

Sadly, along with the convenience and immediacy of modern forms of communications comes what I call The Fear of Disconnecting. Many of us cannot or will not disconnect from work, even when supposedly on vacation, because we suffer from The Fear. Seriously? Are any of us really so important that our workplace would collapse if we disappeared for a week or two? Unfortunately, I know many colleagues who, by their actions, seem to take that notion to heart. I’m asking you to consider otherwise.

After years of vacationing with my laptop and smart phone as travel companions, I wondered why I returned from vacation pretty much as stressed as when I departed. Then it hit me: I never really disconnected. I checked email once or twice each day and replied to most messages. I checked voice mail one or more times daily and returned or forwarded important calls. I found that I was spending an hour or more of each vacation day – working! No wonder I couldn’t relax! No wonder I was stressed! “But this is what’s expected; this is what is necessary these days,” I thought.

Two years ago, I decided to conduct a personal experiment by adopting my own personal vacation policy centered on a complete disconnection from my work routine. While the benefits of such a policy are numerous, here are three benefits that should resonate with most of us:

  1. When I disconnect completely I truly enjoy the vacation experience. Whether visiting an exotic location or doing yard work at the lake (yes, that is R&R for me) the experience receives my full attention. My mind is focused on something other than routine. That’s the point.
  2. When I disconnect completely I am a better travel companion for my family. They get all of me for those few days.
  3. When I disconnect completely I return to work from vacation feeling refreshed and rejuvenated – a win for my coworkers and a win for me.

That all sounds great, but how do we pull this off in today’s world of immediate communication? How do we disconnect while respecting the expectation that we be immediately available? Friends, it’s all in the planning. Two to three weeks before my scheduled vacation, I let my boss, my coworkers, and my direct reports know of my plans. I give them the dates of my vacation and remind them that I will not check email or voice mail while I’m away. This gives them ample time to request things from me before I leave, thus mitigating the possibility of somebody needing something while I’m away and feeling frustrated because I’m not there to deliver it. I give similar notification to important business partners outside my company – in my case those include our insurance broker, our claims representatives, and our outside law firms. I give my first notice three weeks ahead of time if possible, and I repeat the notice at least once each week leading up to my scheduled vacation.

Before leaving the office, I update my voice mail greeting and my email auto-reply to clearly state that I am unavailable while offering a means of reaching a qualified coworker. If you email me today, for example, this is the message you will receive: “I am out of the office on vacation. I will not be checking email while I’m away. I will return to the office on Friday, March 28 and I will receive and reply to your email after my return. Should you require assistance before then, please contact…” Similarly, if you call my work number today, you will receive this voice mail greeting: “This is Jeff Strege with CEC Entertainment. I am on vacation. You may press zero now to be transferred to another member of the risk management team. If you’d prefer to leave a message you may do so at the tone, but I will not receive your message until I return to the office on Friday, March 28.” My goal is to clearly state that I will not receive the message until my return while giving the sender or caller a means by which they can reach somebody else for assistance.

I offer this side comment on out of office messaging: If you say you’re out, you’re out. If you set your out of office message to say you’re out, but then reply to emails or return phone calls your Out of Office Credibility is shot. When you try to disconnect for vacation, people who know you well may expect a reply anyway. Set the message and let it be.

This system has worked beautifully for me. Fortunately, I work with people who understand the needs and benefits of a real vacation – and I bet most of those reading this do as well. I dare you to try it. If it’s a scary proposition for you, take a Friday off and allow yourself to disconnect completely for the 3-day weekend. If you haven’t tried it before, you may be surprised at how refreshed you feel when you return to work on Monday.

P.S. I am not a psychologist or a human behavior expert, nor is this piece intended to persuade anybody to behave in a manner not consistent with company policy or procedure. This piece is based solely on my personal experience. Good luck!

New “Normal” Begins Today!

With my employer’s announcement on January 16 of the company’s acquisition by a private equity firm, my work schedule imploded. There were special projects and additional meetings as we worked with our future owners to gather documents needed to complete the sale. There were temporary changes in procedure, which although necessary, were often disruptive. Some in the office were stressed and worried while others did their jobs without any evidence of worry or concern. Not a worrier by nature, I fell into the latter group as I handled the workflow changes and calendar disruptions as they came while I looked forward to the scheduled February 14 close. Fortunately, the sale closed as scheduled and I now look forward to our new “normal”.

As I sit here on the first Monday morning following the Friday close of sale, I wonder: what is “normal” anyway? What, exactly, am I looking forward to?

Certainly, with new corporate ownership comes change. Working under private equity ownership at various stages in my career has yielded a mixed bag of experiences ranging from stressful and unpleasant (working for a PE firm that focused mainly on cutting costs by reducing head count) to new and refreshing (working for a PE firm that shared growth goals and allowed us the flexibility to work towards achieving them). How will this one conduct itself? Sure, they said all the right things as the transaction was pending, but what will they do now that the sale is final and they are at the helm? What will our new “normal” look like?

Truth be told, it doesn’t matter. They can do what they like. I cannot control or even influence what our new “normal” will be. Many in this situation find that fact downright scary, but I know better.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Joshua 29:11

When God delivered this message to Israel through the prophet Joshua, Israel had been exiled to Babylon. Talk about a new “normal”, Israel was living it! God promised that He was in control; that there was an end game to their exile. His plan would be revealed in due course. In the meantime, He told them to live their lives – build homes, build families, build careers – God told them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Joshua 29:7)

I said earlier that I am not, by nature, a worrier. I don’t worry because I trust God’s plan. This aspect of my nature is not my doing; it is a gift from God. Whatever happens, He has an end game in mind. All He expects of me is to work with our new owners in earnest and do my part to execute their plan. God’s plan for me in all of this could be a myriad of things – maybe a promotion, maybe increased job security, perhaps a new career altogether. Whatever it is, it will be grand. So as I head to work on this, the first Monday morning under new corporate ownership, I will stand firmly on the promise that God delivered to an exiled Israel and trust God for my new “normal”. That, my friends, is a relief. God is good, indeed!

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