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Climbing the Hourly Ladder – An Interview with Paul Facella

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Facella, a former Regional Vice President of McDonald’s Corporation and now CEO of Inside Management.  He is author of Everything I Know about Business I Learned at McDonald’s (McGraw-Hill, 2008).   During Paul’s 34 year career with McDonald’s, he learned a lot about growing his own career as well as how to motivate and develop others to do so.  He was kind enough to share some of those lessons during our discussion and in a guest blog he wrote for us (below).

Click here to listen to a podcast of our discussion and read on to enjoy Paul’s blog below.

(Paul’s blog post is presented here as he submitted it to us)

The jobless figures for the U.S. economy in November were the worst in 34 years. With more than 9.5 million Americans now out of work–and rising–many job seekers are wondering if the American Dream is fading. Is it still possible in today’s economic climate to work hard, rise up the corporate ladder, and get ahead?

No doubt about it. As someone with firsthand experience, I encourage you not to lose heart in this tough job market. There are opportunities hiding in some of the least likely places–namely, in the hourly workforce.

Like four out of seven McDonald’s CEOs and three out of four senior-level managers, I started my stellar career climb at the bottom rung–as a crew member. That scenario is as likely today as it ever was.

But there’s a caveat. If you want to grow in a company, you have to find one that has aggressive talent development policies and is committed to promoting from within. McDonald’s, for example, has created more millionaires–including more women and minority millionaires–than any other American company. That’s because the company culture is based on rewards and recognition. If you work hard there, you will be rewarded.

Job seekers who are willing to work for hourly pay initially, want to learn and develop, are ambitious, and have a clear vision of where they’d like to be in three to five years are good candidates for such jobs. But don’t waste your time at the bottom unless you are confident that the company hiring you has your best career interests at heart.

So how can you find out which companies have the right stuff for career advancement? The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out a detailed and excellent set of guidelines and resources, at, for finding out more about a prospective company before you say yes. Do as much homework as possible before an interview so you can be reasonably sure this will be a goal-and-growth-oriented job–not a dead-end job.

In your job interview, ask such questions as: What percentage of your mid- to senior-level managers are promoted from within? What programs and policies are set up for helping high-achieving employees develop new skills? Is mobility at your company limited, or could one apply for jobs for which one qualifies elsewhere in the company?

What types of companies have the peachiest low-end jobs that are likely to lead to bigger and better positions? One rule of thumb is size. Large Fortune 500 companies usually have well-developed promote-from-within policies and are dedicated to career advancement for their lower-end employees. Some of the names that consistently come up, in addition to McDonald’s, are Walgreens, GE, FedEx, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and LL Bean. Each of these organizations has a track record for fast-tracking low-rung workers, such as store clerks, drivers, and low-end office workers into managerial positions. Also, the US military is well known for recognizing exceptional smarts and talents and promoting promising people quickly.

The take-away message is this: If you’re discouraged about the job market, don’t forget that a great job may be staring you in the face. Bottom-level jobs are not always dead-end jobs. In the right organization, they are a first stepping stone to rich career opportunities ahead.

What was your best hourly job?  What did you learn from it?


Reasons to be Optimistic in 2009

If I hear “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” one more time on the radio, I’m going to scream.  One of the fundamental principles you learn when you study finance is that the value of organizations is more than the sum of their actual parts – and that the confidence that investors feel about their future has a big impact on the market value of those organizations.   So, growth and prosperity, as difficult as they are to envision in the current climate, still persist in the future for those who can act on the courage of their convictions.  If you want to read a cogent explanation of what’s gone wrong in the current economy, read this article by Ben Stein.

If you’d like to reflect on a few things that may be going right, I offer a few ideas from our board members about reasons to be optimistic in 2009:

  • Ruth Bramson talks about the persistence of philanthropy in this Boston Business Journal letter –Generosity is Still Very Much Alive.
  • Deb McGrath feels that people are setting more realistic goals that are achievable.
  • David Creelman noted that many people are curbing their consumption, spending more time with their friends and families, and finding more peace in their lives as a result.
  • David also noted that recessions can create space for good businesses to thrive.  A slow down gives us time to re-think and re-focus our business for the future.
  • Steve Hunt believes that organizations are still pursuing critical talent during the recession, and that they are increasingly willing to support telecommuting as a means of removing geography as an obstacle to attracting and retaining that talent.  You may also want to check out this recent podcast that Steve did with Rich Moran, a partner at venture capital firm Venrock in which they discuss the heightened importance of aligning employee actions with organizational intent in order to manage through the current economic climate.
  • Russell Klosk says that in order to goose the economy the government needs to spend money.  That means jobs that benefit from government spending are likely to take an upswing – everything from the approximately 8,000 jobs that are being stood up as part of the TARP sub-agency (within Department of Treasury) to administer the 750 Billion dollar financial services bail out to infrastructure (roads, subways, etc.) where Obama is already talking about spending up to 800 Billion.  He also comments that gasoline prices continue to plunge due to lack of demand in the current economic situation, and as a result the drag on consumers and the economy has lessened significantly.

Me, I’ve worked through multiple economic downturns and lived to tell the tale.  I don’t take the current world situation lightly – I have two children in private college – nor do I believe that wishful thinking alone will drive results.  I do believe, however, that maintaining a spirit of optimism can only enhance thoughtful strategies for managing through tough times.

What do you have to be optimistic about in 2009?

Working the Holidays – Who’s Working?

Today we’ve published the results of our most recent Harris Survey “Despite Weak Economy, Desire for Time Off During the Holidays Remains Strong”.  Seventy-five percent of respondents said they plan to take either the same amount or more time off than they did last year.

Only 19 percent of respondents said they plan to take less time off this year.  Of that 19 percent, the top reasons they gave for cutting back on their time off were: to earn extra money (33 percent);   because they are facing new restrictions on taking time off than they did last year (21 percent);  because they are saving their vacation time to use in 2009 (20 percent); and due to worries about job security (19 percent).

This year’s “Working the Holidays” survey also showed an increase in the practice of giving employees the entire time off between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This year, 20 percent of respondents who work full time say their office will be closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day as opposed to 18 percent in 2007.  A New York Times story published on Sunday found this to be an increasing trend as well, with recession challenged organizations across the US seeking to reduce operating costs while pushing employees to use their paid time off benefits to cover the gap.

There is an upside to this story.  Despite all the turmoil and anxiety surround our collective economic fate, most people are still choosing time with family during the holidays over face time at the office during what is arguably the least productive work week of the year.

What are your holiday plans this year – and what impact will our uncertain economic climate have on those plans?