From the Overrated Department: Job Security

Job Security Meme Milton

One of my passions is career and leadership development coaching.  I’ve been doing it informally for longer than I can remember, and started devoting more time to my coaching practice a couple of years ago.  It’s a labor of love…and like any sort of coaching role, it can sometimes be equal parts gratifying and aggravating. One of the most difficult things I run across, which impacts around 75% of my clients, is an inordinate amount of concern about that Holy Grail that the Baby Boomer parents who raised most of the current workforce have always wanted us to pursue: Job Security.

On the surface, job security sounds like an AWESOME thing to pursue!  I grew up in a household with two parents who worked for the same employer for decades, so the idea of finding a stable job seemed as natural as breathing to me. When seeking my first full-time, professional job in my field, I really took care to choose someplace that I thought would provide interesting and rewarding work for years to come.

Except it didn’t.

See, I graduated in 1998 and went into IT Consulting. The employer I chose, was a great consulting firm – part of a publicly traded technology company, not an IT consulting practice stapled on the side of a Big 5 accounting firm like so many of my friends chose.

If you have any understanding of the tech world the last 20 years, it will not surprise you to hear that I was a casualty of the tech wreck – laid off at the end of 2000 with just under 2 years on the job.

I was really lucky to find another position pretty quickly – and got laid off again 6 months later. Crushing, people. Crushing.

I was out of work around 2-3 months this time, at which point I landed a contract gig. I was grateful for it, but the contract market is a scary place for a 26 year old with a car payment, rent, and other debt who grew up in a family where I never saw a parent interview for a job.

About 18 months after my first layoff, I finally found a full time job with benefits in my field. And although I deliberately chose a job at a growing company in a growing industry, the seeds were planted. I decided to stop focusing on job security, and start focusing on something much, much better.

Career Security.

Pursuing career security is more difficult in many ways, but the longer I am in the working world, the more enamored I am, and the more I recommend that my clients think about it.

Pursuing Career Security is *empowering*.  The work I’ve put into getting great experience, building relationships, and establishing credibility improves my career confidence with each passing year.  This helps me both at my employer – by removing stress that might make me hesitant to take a risk or make decisions that are difficult but  not popular – and outside my employer’s realm – by making me marketable in case my job goes away for some reason.

Pursuing Career Security can be *lucrative*.  That full time job I got in 2002 was *stellar* in terms of the learning opportunities and experience it provided – but it was decidedly lacking in the “keep up with market compensation” department.  Over the almost five years I spent at that employee, I got decent raises – most of them just cost of living, with one that was a little bigger when I was promoted to management.  I was also consistently promoted to more and more challenging roles – 4 jobs in five years, every one of which I was recruited for.  And you know what?  By the time I left, my pay was almost 25% under market value for the work I was doing, and the company was unwilling to correct the pay discrepancy. By focusing on career security and always keeping tabs on market trends for compensation, I have been able to land much higher compensation than I ever would have if I’d stayed put in the name of “job security.” (Please note – I don’t advocate focusing *just* on compensation when managing your career – but I do advocate knowing what you are worth and either pursuing it, or making a conscious decision that other things are more important rather than simply not asking for out out of fear or inertia.)

Pursuing Career Security *broadens your world*. When you focus on career security, you have to look up and out into the world.  It forces you to expand your relationships, learn about other companies and industries, and most of all, a focus on career security provides more and more means to serve people. When you focus on career security, you often find yourself attending more conferences where you share your knowledge – perhaps even as a speaker.  You also find yourself deliberately networking with people from other companies or slightly different industries to learn more. The pursuit of career security can give you a whole new tribe of people to call on. It is a path that encourages excellence over the complacency and mediocrity that often become the hallmarks of “trying to keep your job.”

Pursuing Career Security *can actually lead to Job Security*. Some people love their employer, and they love their role.  That’s completely fine.  There is nothing wrong with choosing to stick with the same employer for decades. What’s not okay is feeling like you have no option but staying with an employer – particularly an employer who isn’t serving the needs of you and your family – out of fear. Worst of all – focusing on job security can actually backfire. If conditions go south at your employer, the most likely people to get a pink slip aren’t the ones who have kept all their skills sharp and increased their value doing the things that lead to career security.  It’s the folks – particularly the expensively compensated folks – who have kept their head down and focused on doing a great job at work that the company may no longer need to have done.

Do you focus on job security or career security, and how do you pursue your preferred type of security?

Diana Alt is a connector and problem solver who loves to use her skills in sorting out confusion and chaos both in her day job as a Product Owner for Data Analytics at Ascend Learning and as a career and networking coach. She likes her job and doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon. (Don’t worry, boss!) Some of her favorite words are “grok”, “why”, and “kaizen” and she thinks that the notion of having a “work persona” and a “personal life persona” is, for the most part, nonsense.

Interested in reading more of Diana’s leadership stuff? Check out these articles!

The Importance of a Gratitude Attitude in Your Career

The Most Important Leadership Lesson of My Life: What you CAN’T do!






Caprese Salad 2

I can’t think of very many things more fantastic than an excellent Caprese salad. Simple, delicious, filling, and takes less than ten minutes to make. Simply marvelous.

You know what’s not marvelous?

Gold plated technical products.

Unfortunately, in technology, organizations often feel like it’s not good enough to create a simple solution.  Enterprise software tends to involve a lot of stakeholders representing a lot of market segments, clients and teams. This often leads to complex feature bloat, known as gold plating.

At best, gold plating leads to increased product development expense.

At worst, gold plating can cause companies to miss critical market opportunities and fall behind competition.


The most basic version of the Caprese salad, according to my friends at Wikipedia, involves tomatoes, mozzarella, sweet basil, olive oil, and salt, typically served on a plate with simple layers. Let’s call this this the Minimum Viable Salad.

The Minimum Viable Salad does the job.  If I’m hungry and someone offers me a Minimum Viable Salad, the odds of me turning it down are low, and if it’s of high quality, I’m going to be a pretty happy camper.

Making and selling a Minimum Viable Salad has an excellent chance of serving you well, especially if the people you are serving are pretty traditional have simple needs.

Recently, I stayed with some cousins during a trip to a family reunion.  During the trip, I got some amazing garden herbs from a friend who lives nearby. Knowing my cousins’ taste, I decided that a Caprese salad was in order.  But while I knew these cousins would enjoy a Minimum Viable Salad, I also wanted to step things up just a notch. After all, they hosted me all week which saved me hundreds of dollars in hotel expenses!

So I added balsamic vinegar, cracked black pepper, and some gorgeous dried oregano to my Minimum Viable Salad.

These three, small, low-risk enhancements to my Minimum Viable Salad absolutely delighted my cousins….as evidenced by the pictures of my enhanced salad all over social media and the lack of leftovers.

You know what I didn’t do?

I didn’t add anything weird.

I once got a Seared Ahi Tuna Caprese salad at a restaurant.  Beautiful salad, but absolutely not something I was going to tackle making for my cousins.

  • It was risky.  Really good Ahi tuna isn’t cheap, and I have only attempted searing it once, several years ago.
  • It requires more equipment.  Searing Ahi involves trimming the tuna, heating a pan, and using some sort of fish spatula thingie to flip the tuna at the exact right time.  There’s more clean up involved, too.
  • It required more time.  My enhanced Caprese salad took perhaps 60 seconds longer to prepare than a Minimum Viable Salad.  Making an Ahi Tuna Caprese salad would require time to marinate the tuna, heat the pan, sear the tuna, and trim the tuna.  Most recipes I’ve seen for this require 2 hours *just* for to marinate.
  • Most importantly, I don’t even know if my cousins would value an Ahi Tuna Caprese Salad.  I’ve known these people for decades, but we live 500 miles apart and I flat don’t know how they feel about seared Ahi.  I do know how they feel about Minimum Viable Salad, and I was able to quickly find out their take on my enhancements.

Higher risk, more resources, more time, and a lack of understanding of whether the result would be valuable to your users are the very hallmarks of gold plating.

Naturally, the $64,000 question is….how do I avoid gold plating?

The answer is simple. (It might not be easy, but it’s still pretty simple).

As you are defining what you plan to build, ask yourself questions about what problem you are trying to solve, when you want to solve it, and how you want your users to feel about your solution. Then ask how any proposed enhancements line up with those objectives.

In my case, I wanted to solve hunger, because we’d all had long work days that day.

I wanted to solve hunger quickly – in a matter of a few minutes – because we were all hungry, and let’s face it – nobody likes me when I’m hungry.

And I wanted my cousins to feel valued, and also like they were having a bit of a mini-vacation during the week with a special dish.

Ahi Tuna Caprese salad wouldn’t have done that for my cousins, and gold plated features probably won’t do it for your users either.

What do you think?  Does your team struggle with gold plating? Tell us about it in the comments!

Diana Alt is a connector and problem solver who loves to use her skills in sorting out confusion and chaos both in her day job as  Product Owner for Data Analytics at Ascend Learning and as a career and networking coach. Some of her favorite words are “grok”, “why”, and “kaizen” and she thinks that the notion of having a “work persona” and a “personal life persona” is, for the most part, nonsense. She prefers sliced tomatoes from her mom’s garden for her Caprese salad, but will accept almost any tomato that doesn’t taste mealy in a pinch.


Minimum Viable Salad: How to delight users without gold plating

I spent a lot of time back around New Year’s thinking about personal and professional goals.  Below is a repost of an article I originally published on 1/2/2017 via LinkedIn that relates to some of those goals. I hope you enjoy it!

Thank You Notes Picture

Ah, New Year’s. The time of year when we all vow to lose thirty pounds, be a better spouse or parent, exercise regularly, pay off their credit cards, and cure cancer. It’s the most hopeful time of the year, which I love.

A lot of people make some sort of resolution to “fix their career” at New Year’s. This might mean training for a new type of work, or finding a new job making more money, or getting promoted. But there is a whole different type of career resolution that you should think about, that doesn’t require you find a different company to sing your paycheck.

Thank the people you work with.

In writing.


I don’t mean the cursory, one word “thx!” e-mails that most of us send out multiple times a day. And while in-person, verbal expressions of thanks are awesome, I’m not talking about that either. I mean getting out the nice stationery or a lovely blank card and writing a thank you note for someone you work with.

Many people haven’t written a proper thank you note for an awfully long time. For many, the last memory of writing a thank you was trying to figure out how to properly phrase thanks for the wedding gift of a green ceramic deviled egg tray that you most decidedly did *not* register for. That means you might be rusty at writing them. It’s OK – if you can figure out the deviled egg tray thing, you can figure out how to thank a colleague. All that’s required is to be as sincere as possible, and share specifics about what you appreciate. It doesn’t have to be long – in fact, thanks that are brief and genuine will always beat thanks that are longer and seem inauthentic.

So why should you do this? Especially when you spent 40+ hours a week with these people in a cube farm?

People are starving for appreciation. One of the biggest reasons for turnover and disengagement at work is that people don’t feel appreciated. Usually, we discuss this in terms of bosses not showing appreciation for their teams, but the problem exists at every level – peers don’t show appreciation for each other, bosses don’t show appreciation for their direct reports, and freaking NOBODY shows appreciation for the bosses, especially at the executive level. Everyone is starving for a boost.

Nobody writes their thanks down. In my 18 year career, I have received exactly two handwritten notes of appreciation from colleagues. Two. Writing down what you appreciate about someone in your own hand gives something tangible and memorable to the person. And you never know when re-reading your note might give someone the boost to get through a tough time.

It’s a network booster, which makes it a career investment. Those 2 thank you notes I mentioned getting in 18 years? I still have both of them, and I got the last one about 7 years ago. Imagine how much more meaningful your network will be if it includes a group of people who are familiar not just with your competence and work ethic, but with the heart and empathy you show when you sincerely express your appreciation.

For these reasons, and many more, I spent a few hours this weekend writing thank you notes to about 15 of my colleagues, and I wish my hand hadn’t cramped up so I could do more. Instead, I will look for more opportunities to do this for people in 2017 and encourage others to do the same.

Thank the people you work with.

In writing.


When is the last time you thanked someone in writing for their contribution to your success? When is the last time someone thanked you in writing? Share your stories in the comments!


Diana Alt is a connector and problem solver who loves to use her skills in sorting out confusion and chaos both in her day job as a Product Owner for Data Analytics at Ascend Learning and as a career and networking coach. Some of her favorite words are “grok”, “why”, and “kaizen” and she thinks that the notion of having a “work persona” and a “personal life persona” is, for the most part, nonsense. She recently won some new note cards in a raffle at her family reunion at can’t wait to write a few more letters to people!


The Importance of a Gratitude Attitude in your Career

Like many professionals, especially those in the Agile, Project Management, and Career Coaching worlds, I am utterly fascinated by reading about leadership of all kinds and applying sound principles to my life. I’ve led people both formally as a direct manager (aka person who writes those gawdawful performance reviews) and by influence in roles like business analyst, product manager, and Scrum Master. I’ve learned a ton from books, conferences, and the school of hard knocks about how I want to lead and be led. And if you ask me “what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about leadership?” the answer is EASY.

You can NEVER, NEVER, EVER make ANYONE do something they don’t want to do. EVER.

People challenge me on this all the time…..they say “of course you can make people do things! You can demote them, or fire them, charge them fines, put them in jail, or (in the case of kids) ground them!”

But I still stand behind my statement, 100%.

See, when people challenge this, they don’t explain how you can make someone do what you want. Instead, they share the many ways you can make someone’s life miserable if they don’t comply with your wishes – which is not the same thing at all.

Even if you take it to the most extreme conclusion – killing someone who won’t do what you want, as has been done throughout history to people who refused to renounce their religion, you *still* haven’t forced anyone to do anything – you’ve either broken them, in which case they decide it is preferable to live than to be killed for standing up for their beliefs, or they become martyrs.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider breaking people or creating martyrs to be hallmarks of great leadership.

When I first heard this lesson, it actually scared the crap out of me. If I couldn’t make people do things, how could anything possibly get done? What is a person to do if they can’t just force the issue? The answer lies in learning how to influence. A few of my favorite ways are….

  • LISTEN to people. Listen for understanding, not to reply.
  • EXERCISE YOUR EMPATHY MUSCLES and meet people where they are at, or perhaps a half step ahead of where they are at.
  • SHOW YOUR HUMANITY to the people you lead, and acknowledge theirs. It’s always easier to lead teammates who believe you value them as people first.
  • LEARN THE CURRENCY of the people you lead. For some people, it’s public praise and recognition. For others, it’s the knowledge that the work they do now will make someone’s life better. Use the information to help figure out how to motivate your team and engage them.
  • EXPLAIN THE WHY of your project or your request. If you have learned the person’s currency, you can factor this into your explanations and influence teammates that much more effectively.

In my case, I pondered this lesson for a while, and originally rejected it. It took me a few years and some leaps of faith and experimentation before things clicked. To this day, years later, I get feedback from the people who worked with and for me that I am one of the best leaders they’ve encountered. I won’t necessarily take credit for being *that* great a leader, but grokking the truth of this lesson has made a big difference in my world.


What do you think? Is Diana right about this, or is she bonkers? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Diana Alt is a connector and problem solver who loves to use her skills in sorting out confusion and chaos both in her day job as a Technical Project Manager at Ascend Learning and as a career and networking coach. Some of her favorite words are “grok”, “why”, and “kaizen” and she thinks that the notion of having a “work persona” and a “personal life persona” is, for the most part, nonsense.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn

The Most Important Leadership Lesson of My Life: What you CAN’T do!