The Story Behind the Story
This week, I wanted to dedicate this advice column to giving you an insider's view. Let's delve into how the column is crafted and the stories behind those who are featured. The "Ask Stephen" feature graces multiple online platforms each week, including MMQB, BoF, and Contract.Careers, and is then redistributed to my social media followers on LinkedIn, X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram, and Threads. The title "Ask Stephen" pays homage to longstanding advice columns like "Dear Abby," "Ask Amy," "Carolyn Hax," and "Ask a Manager." I confess to being an advice column aficionado; I'm enamored with the format, whether it's written or presented as a podcast.
My column zeroes in on workplace quandaries within the interior furnishings industry. What I relish most are the questions from you, the readers. This niche focus keeps both my audience and me abreast of the latest developments in the industry we cherish. The topics are ever-evolving. Perhaps you're at a company that's been acquired, or maybe you're a dealer aiming to transition to a manufacturer. You might be grappling with declining sales and commissions, contemplating a career shift, or perhaps adjusting to working from home during a harrowing pandemic. We're often the first to hear about it—whether it's through an email, an Instagram DM, questions posed on LinkedIn, or even in-person queries after I've delivered a keynote speech.
Why turn to me for workplace advice? I've authored two bestselling books on jobs and the workplace: "On the Job" (Three Rivers Press) and "Bulletproof Your Job" (HarperCollins), the latter of which was published in seven languages and sold globally. I began my television career as a workplace expert on ABC's Good Morning America, where the then-host Charlie Gibson dubbed me "America's Workplace Guru." This background underpins my ability to author a reputable column.
As for my expertise in the interiors industry, my journey began at a high-end retail store comparable to the 80's equivalent of DWR. My experience there taught me details such as the standard size of sofas relative to elevator dimensions, the height of dining tables, and even the size of a queen bed—mattresses included. Moving on, I worked at a contract dealer and then at a manufacturer, Haworth, before evolving into an executive recruiter. At The Viscusi Group, which I established in 1985, we recruit across the industry, from CEOs to showroom managers and all types of sales representatives. This has given me a wealth of knowledge on salaries, hiring trends, and company practices. An executive once remarked, "In this industry, Stephen Viscusi hears the grass grow."
Unlike traditional advice columns that offer a straightforward Q&A format, this column allows for real-time interaction on LinkedIn, where readers can respond directly to my advice. Many of you also reach out privately or call, which I welcome.
A common refrain I hear is, "That letter seems like it's about me, is it?" My reply: It's about you only if you're the one who wrote to "Ask Stephen." When a question mirrors your own workplace issue, it's crucial to realize that others may share your dilemma. Workplace issues are not as unique as they may seem. Whether it's questions from manufacturers and dealers or concerns from retail, residential, or contract employees, everyone encounters problems.
In the past two years, a significant number of inquiries have come from individuals at MillerKnoll or #MillerKnoll dealers. My consistent advice to those questioning the aftermath of such corporate mergers is straightforward: Leverage your association with the distinguished Knoll brand, and if you're discontent with the new corporate culture, make a proactive change.
Not long ago, an industry CEO confronted me in an airport lounge at O'Hare, asserting that I fabricate the questions. I could only smile to myself, knowing the authenticity of the issues at hand.
Here's how the column operates: We synthesize similar questions from across the nation into a composite that reflects a current concern in the workplace. While the scenarios may not directly pertain to you or your company, they likely resonate with someone in your circle.
The aim of this advice column is to share relevant information and provide current, pertinent advice without causing embarrassment or impacting someone's job. Employing a blend of my expertise, experience, and yes, a plethora of opinions, I endeavor to address your questions. While names are changed and narratives combined—a method known as creative non-fiction—the essence of the advice remains pertinent and timely.
Your feedback often aligns with my counsel, but the lingering question is always about the origin of these inquiries. Now you have your answer, and perhaps you also understand why they seem so familiar—it's because many share similar workplace challenges.
Continue to send in your workplace questions. We will guard your anonymity while sharing stories in our distinctive Q&A format, aiming both to entertain and to assist. No matter your role—HR, C-suite
executive, salesperson, or manager—I am here to offer guidance and options to help you make informed decisions for yourself or your company.
Thank you for making "Ask Stephen" the go-to workplace column in the furniture space.