Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Next Great Weapon In The War For Talent

If you are on either side of the recruiting desk, you have probably long ago heard about the Electronic Recruiting Exchange's web site. They really have done an excellent job and trying to provide a platform for those who operate in or are just interested in the recruiting "space" to express points of view. I try to check it out frequently.

Apparently, as do many publishers, at the end of the year they will reprise some articles they feel had a lot to say. One of these was written by Mike Homula, currently the Director of Recruiting for Quicken Loans and ran under the title of The Next Great Weapon In The War For Talentand ran last July.

As I said, if you are really a practitioner you'll probably want to read the whole thing, but since I am not in the recruiting game to the degree that Mike et al are, I took something else from the point he was making in this piece which was, in short, that the next great weapon is you, not technology filled clicks, links, and resume data bases.

Anyway, at the tail end of his article, Mike lists a number of attributes which he feels really make the difference in the kind of relationships that are needed for a recruiter to be able to land exceptional talent in the increasingly competitive market in which we all find ourselves. Among these were things like:

Build credibility;
Consult, Don't Recruit;
Use Energy & Passion as a Weapon

Maybe it is just the nostalgia that comes naturally as the year comes to close and we all start thinking about where we've been and where we're going that struck me when I was reading this, not sure. All I do know is that it made me realize that some 18 years ago I was just one among millions of other executives who had been caught up in the recession that was rapidly pushing us into the 90's. I was also angry and confused at what felt very much like an adversarial relationship between candidates and recruiters.

While I didn't use the same words that Mike used in his article, when we decided to try and make ExecuNet a reality, I now realize that much of what still are were then the driving factors for us were also based on the building of our credibility on both sides of the recruiting desk, approaching every encounter with someone not as a "sales" opportunity, but rather to help where we could help and not worry about the outcome; and finally, to take the anger and channel that energy into a passionate message that we could take something that many felt was a win-lose relationship, and make it win-win. It all seemed to fit.

It will obviously be left to others to judge as to how far along that road we have come in the past 18 years, but when I reflect on the fact that personal recommendation continues to be the single biggest source of referral to us, it does make me feel that we are still on the right track, and that credibility, an attitude that is built on helping, and passion for what we believe have certainly helped to keep us going in the right direction.

Here's to a peaceful and prosperous 2006!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Career Doctors

Over the years, now 18 of them, I have lost count of the number of calls and conversations we have had with the media, be it radio, TV, or print. In almost every case, the common thread is that these are short conversations where you really don't get much of a chance to have a discussion. Most are "sound bites" or situations where the writer is focused on a specific topic, so the "discussion," if you want to call it that, is pretty narrow to say the least. On top of that, by the time it gets edited, etc., often the only thing you recognize versus what you actually tried to say is the name of your company.

Recently, however, I had the chance to have a real discussion on an Atlanta based radio show called The Career Doctors. It airs every Saturday from 12-2 on WGKA 920 AM and via the net at The shows hosts are Craig Allen and Deborah Sawyer. On this particular day, Deborah was on vacation, so her place was taken by Mikal Jackson, the Corporate VP of People and Culture at MillerZell, a retail strategy/design/implementation firm based in Atlanta.

What made this so much fun wasn't the fact that host Craig Allen (his stage name because his real last name is one of those where it would take up the first five minutes of the program to pronounce properly) has been such a long time member of ExecuNet - that just added to the good feeling. No, the real satisfaction came from two things:

1. There was passion and genuine interest in the issues Craig and Mikal wanted to discuss, and

2. I actually had time to answer in depth and explain the context of the responses.

Really nice for a change.

The other thought that came to mind when we finished our discussion was that there was such a program in the first place, and when I started to think about it, this is not the only one. A friend of mine in the NY, NJ, CT tri-state area has a similar program, as did Ed Kelleher and his partner Mitch Wienick down in the Philadelphia area. Hadn't thought about it until now, but Ed's company, Kelleher Associates, has been hosting and facilitating our networking meetings in the metro Philly area for a long time as well, and I have fond memories of participating in their show for the same reasons.

Point being? If there is media that is now focusing on career management, it would indicate that there is both interest and need, and it would not surprise me to see this continue to expand. Indeed, it isn't only the traditional media outlets that are focusing on career issues, all you have to do is check out any of the multitude of websites (e.g. or Weddles to name a couple) and, of course, not to mention blogs, including this one, to see that people, including many senior level executives, care very much about and continue to be curious about seeking answers about career management in this era of You, Inc.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Intimidations & Stress: All in a Day's Interview

Saw an article in a recent issue of the Financial Times in a column called MBA diary. Essentially it was about the stress interviews to which many MBA students are subjected in order to see how they react under pressure.

I had not read about stress interviews for a long time. I guess I was hoping that they really had gone out with high button shoes, hula hoops, and pet rocks. Apparently not, and I think it's too bad.

For sure, we all face pressures in our jobs, and for sure they are of differing degrees, so if the deal here is that they are looking for candidates to man a trading desk, then maybe there is some rationale to it, but even then I am not sure that I am ready to sign up for it as a good indication of what I am getting if I hire the person.

People have been trying to break the code on the making of hiring decisions since as they say in the military, "Christ was a Corporal." No one has done it yet despite the claims one sees on the websites of all sorts of interviewing software. The person who really figures this one out will be the next Velcro-like billionaire.

The interview process itself creates stress, to add artificial stress to it, in my view, simply further distorts the real characteristics and traits that an organization may be attempting to identify in the first place.

Said another way: in my experience, the hires that have not worked out failed not because they were deficient in the technical skills or experience but failed because they were not a good cultural fit. Sometimes that was based on a 1:1 relationship with the boss, sometimes it was broader than that, and the employee's personality just didn't sit well across the organization. Anyone reading this will know exactly what I mean.

The point I am trying to make is simply this: Making a hiring decision that turns out to be a winner is tough enough at best, and since what they call “chemistry” is far more important than anything else to most folks, the more things you can do to discover who the real person is the better off you are. Adding stress that is artificial, I believe, does not give you insights into the real person. It shows you nothing more than how you might behave under the same set of circumstances which are not only not real, but which are not likely to surface in any case.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Holiday Shopping

I don't know about you, but when you get to a certain point in your life, and the people on your gift list are at about the same place, it get harder and harder to figure out something to give to them that you think would really give some pleasure that might bring more of a smile than a sweater, tie, or a bottle of perfume.

Fortunately for me Ellen Stuhlmann who edits the Executive Insider, our free bi-weekly electronic newsletter, came to my rescue with a book recommendation (she recommends one in every issue) entitled Then We Set His Hair on Fire: Insights and Accidents from a Hall of Fame Career in Advertising. The author is Phil Dusenberry, the former chairman of BBDO North America.

When Ellen recommends something, I pay attention. Not only because she has great taste, but also because she always picks books that are not only first class reads, but she also makes sure that the "learnings" in the books are things that help our members become more effective as leaders. In this case, Ellen said "Do you want to learn how to tackle communication problems from a unique angle and hit home runs, not just singles? Treat yourself to this insightful and entertaining book this holiday season!" Apparently lots of people feel about her recommendations as I do since scores of our members were forwarding her suggestion to their friends all over the place.

Thanks Ellen

Career Insurance

Pete Weddle has been keeping tabs on recruiting trends since well before any of us knew that the Internet was something other than a new bar-restaurant in our home town. Among other things that Pete's company publishes, he has a couple of free electronic newsletters, and, as usual, the one that crossed my desk this week, had some interesting commentary - in this case he was writing about the importance for job seekers and their use of search agents.

Pete had a number of key points to make about why if people were not using an search agent that they ought to be. I certainly agree with him, if for no other reason, than it helps people to be both proactive in terms of managing their careers, and it also helps to leverage one's productivity.

Pete prefaced his remarks by wondering how many of the employees at Merck might have been using online job search agents since they now knew, along with the rest of us that somewhere along the line there are 7,000 of them are not going to be there too much longer.

When I was reading all this it reminded me again of one of the prime driving forces that gave birth to ExecuNet which was an awakening by many of us that the world of work had changed, and there was great truth in the phrase: "nobody cares about you more than you." Time and time again, I talk to members who tell me that when they originally joined us they did so because they just been impacted by a downsizing, a merger, or restructuring. Over time, however, they say that they remain a member for one of the same reasons that Pete mentions in his piece on search agents - specifically, they view it as "career insurance." Career insurance is one way we talk about it, another is that if you are not doing things to proactively care for your career, you are just waiting for the world to happen to you - and you can bet that it will.

Over the years, it would certainly seem that people have internalized the concept of career insurance, at least by what we see here. When I look at our current membership as we close out 2005, roughly 70% are currently employed and they have their "ALERTS" set,

And given the state of the world of work in which we live, it also makes me wonder if the reason we had our system built so that members could actually set up to three separate alerts for themselves rather than just one was because if we have learned nothing else, we have learned that there is indeed truth to the old phrase "you can't have too much insurance."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tolerance of Jargon

Most of us are so time constrained and "brand-washed" (if there is such a phrase) to the WSJ, that it borders on being an epiphany to discover that there are actually other newspapers that deal with the world of business.

I have to confess that I while I am still a "loyal" brand-washed Journal reader, during the past year I was introduced to the Financial Times by Lauryn Franzoni, our Vice President and Executive Editor. I haven't gotten around to asking her when she became addicted to FT, but my guess is it was when she was running a publishing company in London a few years back. No matter, she turned me on to the FT, and while I still don't seem to have the time to read the Journal every day, much less the Financial Times, Lauryn very kindly sends long an article or two that she thinks would be of interest.

For example, last July it was Lauryn that turned me on to Martin Lukes Chief Personal Ethics Champion aka Maybe it's just because I am such a fan of British humor or have been gone from the big-time corporate world long enough that some of what goes on just makes be laugh until the tears come. Not sure, all I know is that I have been a faithful reader of Martin Lukes' business happenings every since.

Well, now it seems there is another one! Lauryn stops by and showed me a column in FT's Business Life section written by Lucy Kellaway that was titled: Why there has been an uptick in my tolerance of jargon. Unfortunately, the FT has gone the route of the NY Times and you now have to pay to read the work of their regular columnists, so I can just give you a link so you can check out this particular piece. Suffice it to say I thought it was pretty funny (otherwise why am I taking the time to blog about it).

In the column she directs the reader to a couple of books on business jargon. One is by, as she calls him "...a frightfully nice man with a PhD from Oxford" and is titled: Ducks in a Row, an A-Z of Offlish. To give you an idea of the author's approach, Lucy tells her readers that in his introduction to the book, the author tells us "As offlish is highly contagious, it is vital that these people are mocked, ridiculed and undermined in order to prevent its spread." I love it!

On the other side of the pond, comes the U.S. entry written by Ron Sturgeon, someone that Lucy describes as a "...former scrap-car dealer." This one is titled: Green Weenies and Due Diligence. She says the book as some 1200 terms and phrases many of which I assume covers the well-worn territory that with which most of us are all too familiar. She did, however, offer up a couple of newer ones (at least to me) such as "chair plug" and "square-headed girlfriend." The first being someone who simply sits in a meeting contributing nothing (aka an empty suit?) and the "girlfriend" turns out to be your PC.

What does it all mean? Nothing of course, but as we struggle through the crashing and thrashing of getting to our numbers by year-end along with creating our numbers for the year coming, it's kind of fun to take a side trip to columns like Ms. Kellaway's.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Working to Live or Living to Work?

Last Tuesday's WSJ had an interesting column by Loretta Chao titled, For Gen Xers, It's Work to Live. One of the key points it made had to do with the gap between the "wants" for the Gen Xers and the Baby Boomers (and beyond) for whom they work.

It isn't that the observations the reporter made by providing all sorts of stats from almost any survey you want to mention that made it very clear that the Xers most valued "perk" was work schedule flexibility. That came as no surprise. What caught my attention was that many of their bosses still think that "by the book" structure is still what makes the world go round.

Any company or manager on the planet who has not yet gotten the word that as our economy has continued to gain traction the GenXers (and yes, a good percentage of the Boomers as well) are starting to vote with their feet in a big way must not have their EKG machines turned on.

Here at galactic headquarters we see these things manifesting themselves in any number of ways as the senior-level executives who make up our community report to us on what is often an hourly basis things like: people "landing" at a significantly higher rate; new members who report their status as "currently employed and thinking about making a change" to name a couple. They are, of course, responding to what they see in terms of the increased demand (e.g. our postings from recruiters are up close to 40% YTD).

So my question is this: If all those who say they are making a change because they want to find a work environment and/or a culture that is more in tune with their "wants", to what degree do they "get it?" Do they "get it" enough to really work to transform the cultures of the organizations to which they are going so that they meet the real needs of those already there and as part of which and as members of the executive team, they will be trying to recruit and retain?

If one examines the behavior of organizations in the past as they have attempted to adapt to the changing values of differing generations, it explains all too clearly why when it is a seller’s market that retention is always a big time issue. And the "war for talent" stats notwithstanding, it ain't just about numbers of warm bodies available.

There is in all this, it seems to me, both lesson and "learning." The companies who have not made addressing retention issues a strategic priority must be made up of people who believe the old saying: "History is something that happens to other people."

It would be my hope that in today's environment where we have the chance to apply both lessons and "learnings" that companies will be more inclined to view it as Alphonse De Lamartine put it: "History teaches everything including the future."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In the Enron and SOXly era, it only seems appropriate that the ethics gurus would be getting some "testing" questions on a wide variety of topics.

Here's one that I saw the other day on David Perry's Gurrilla Marketing for Job Hunters blog. The question posed to readers was this:

As a candidate what would you do if the company you were interviewing with wanted to offer you a job but told you that they did not want the headhunter who made the introduction to get paid?

Headhunters cost a lot of money, companies are trying to save money any way they can, you want and need a job. What's the "right" call?

Since the question is already posed on the Gurrilla blog, if you prefer to share your thought both here and there, you can do so by going to the Guerrilla Marketing blog and put in your two cents worth on the entry: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Friday, December 02, 2005

No Monkey Business When It Comes To You, Inc.

I got a chance the other day to read a piece on CEO turnover that came via Challenger, Gray & Christmas and via CNN/Money. Isn't the Internet great?

In any event, the article said in part "So far this year, 1,110 CEOs have left their jobs, surpassing even the dotcom exodus of 2000. October saw 96 departures, 113 percent higher than during October 2004, including 15 health-care CEOs and a dozen chief executives from the technology sector." This was not a huge surprise since we all have seen the stats that talk about the average tenure of a CEO these days is something less than three (3) years.

What got me thinking was that when it comes to managing one's career in this new world of "Me, Inc.," you had better not only be proactive in your thinking, but you had better be “up” on the tools and techniques that will help put you in the position to compete and not just be part of the pack. While it is obviously encouraging to all of us that the economy still seems to be moving forward in spite of high energy prices, hurricanes, and the understatement of "foreign entanglements," it doesn't change the fact that moving on to the next challenge is anything but easy. Indeed, with this being the case, and in this environment, it still amazes me on a daily basis that so many senior-level executives continue to approach the job market and managing their careers in ways that don't seem to recognize that the world as moved so far beyond "Dear Sir, I saw your ad in the Wall Street Journal" that it doesn't even show in your rear view mirror.

This is just one of the reasons that I was so taken with David Perry's new book called Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters. After I had read a draft, I not only thought the book was going to help an awful lot of people, but I specifically wanted to see if we could get him to put a special live webinar together to help our members become familiar with some of what the book had to offer and also would give them a chance to talk with him. Fortunately, we were able to "score" on both fronts.

When executives are out of work, one of the first things one often hears them say is that they plan to "work with a recruiter.” Even after all these years it still amazes me that somehow they have the notion that a recruiter is the "answer" when almost nothing could be further from reality. In the environment that will continue for at least as far as most of us can see, anyone looking for a senior-level executive job had better hone in on and become an advocate of “do-it-yourself career management.” The tools that Perry has put together in the book make it the best DIY kit that I have come across in a long time.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Don't Miss the Next Strategic Turn

Don't Miss the Next Strategic Turn is the title of an article recently posted on the Electronic Recruiting Exchange and written by Yves Lermusiaux who is the President of -- now known as Taleo Research -- a company that provides consulting services to corporations on staffing. Yves makes some interesting points as he takes the reader though a thought process that among other things reminds us of the following:

"In 2000, only 27% of the Fortune 500 directed all candidates wishing to respond to job positions posted to the corporate careers website to a purely online response mechanism. But in 2005, 77% of the Fortune 500 do not give jobseekers the option of responding offline to job positions posted to the corporate careers website."

If I were a candidate in this day of "personal branding" this sort of news -- even though I probably would have guessed it to be true -- would still not be welcome. Not only unwelcome, but it would also make me ponder even harder, how to get out of the universal "molds" and "boxes" and get a potential hiring manager to start to see all the problem solving solutions I could bring?

Technology is great. It's exciting, and it certainly helps on the productivity side in more ways than most of us can count, but I still think that when it comes to getting someone's attention, we have yet to find a replacement for what we like to call "being remembered and being referred."

It still amazes me even after so many years of being on one side or the other of the recruiting world that even those of us who are seeking senior-level executive jobs see the boards that seduce us with "come see us, we have more jobs than there are stars in the sky" or some other equally enticing come-on that makes me want to say "great, I will simply click, send, and wait for my Blackberry to wake me in the middle of the night with an offer."

I'm certainly not saying that people don't actually get jobs by answering ads. Of course they do or there would be no ads, but when it comes to setting yourself apart, and getting to a hiring manager without rolling the electronic dice, by far and away the most productive "branding" tool known to man is the care and feeding of your personal and professional network.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Mayonnaise Jar & Two Cups of Coffee…

Like so many of these things that people share with eachother, I don't know who the author is, but as we all pause for Thanksgiving, it just felt like not a bad thought to share. I do know that our Director of IT, Darryl thought enough of it to send it along to me, and since I got it I have shared it with the other members of our staff in a daily internal newsletter we call ExecuNet Buzz.

The Mayonnaise Jar & Two Cups of Coffee

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar ... and the 2 cups of coffee ..

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaises jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous, "Yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, " I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life."

"The golf balls are the important things - your God, your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full." "The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car." "The sand is everything else -- the small stuff."

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you."

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal."

"Take care of the golf balls first - the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Why Drucker Still Matters

I think that most people in senior level executive jobs who are my age, and those who are within 35 or so years plus or minus certainly know who Peter Drucker was. For those who haven't heard of him, you may have noticed he was on the cover of BusinessWeek this week. If you read the cover story article, hopefully you gained some appreciation for his insights.

There was a sidebar in this article that featured just a few of Drucker's observations. They are all, as they say; "deep" but one in particular caught my eye. It was on leadership, and said the following:

"Don't ever think or say "I." Think and say "we." Effective leaders know they have authority only because they have the trust of the organization. They understand that the needs and opportunities of an organization come before their own needs."

How many trillions of dollars and been spent trying to figure out what leadership is and how to create or at least develop it I would not begin to know. All I do know is that in almost every survey I have ever seen, including
our own, when you ask employers what characteristic is the most critical the answer is always "leadership."

For me, and to borrow a phrase a bit it is like pornography. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. I think that is true for most of us, and while Dr. Drucker's statement might not cover it all, starting with "we" rather than "I" is a heck of start.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

People Who Make An Impression

I think that most of us can reflect on various aspects of our lives and in looking at each segment come up with the names of those who have a significant impact or left an indelible impression.

Probably one of the easiest reflections comes from your education. There was a particular grammar school teacher you remember either because they took you under their wing or scared you to death, but either way you can still see and hear them as if it were yesterday.

You move onto high school or college, and there are usually two to four that stand out in your mind. “Role models” I think they call them, and for me at least, the impact they had on me remains today. Indeed, so powerful were certain teachers I had in high school, that despite any number of wonderful professors I had in college, it is my high school that I support when in comes to annual giving time. I know that had my high school not done for me what they did, the closest I would have come to college would be watching NCAA games on the tube.

It is, I think, the same way in business. There is usually one boss that stands out (for good or ill) or a colleague or two that are really special, and when it comes to professional development programs that we have attended, there are one or two speakers we have heard over the years that stick with you the same way as teachers, classmates, or colleagues.

Peter Drucker, who passed away last Friday, was one such person for me. I did not know him personally, but I vividly recall that early in my career I was given the chance to hear him speak at NYU. It has been too many years now for me to recall much of the specifics of his talk that day, but I sure remember the point he was making. Indeed, I never fotgot the image that he projected up on the screen out of my mind, and this was long before PowerPoint, so what I am talking about was a single black and white transparency that sat on top of an overhead projector that is now likely in the Smithsonian.

What he had put up on the screen was a list of the Fortune 50 at the time, and he began his remarks by saying that in 20 years only one or two would still be on the list. Young and impressionable person that I was, I thought he was crazy. It took me a long time before I realized how right he was, and it has stuck with me ever since. It isn't only that nothing is forever, but when it comes to business, his writings on marketing still ring remarkably true.

My guess is that many of us saw the piece in the WSJ on Drucker along with the side bar that quoted a number of his "lessons." While I had not seen or heard them in a while, when I read them again it reminded me of how much even my brief exposure to him had left such a profound impression. I found myself reading these "lessons" and realized that both had become basic beliefs in terms of how we have tried to run our business. These were:

"Management is about human beings." Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant."

"True marketing starts out...with the customer, his demographics, his realities, his needs, his values. It does not ask, ‘What do we want to sell?’ It asks, ‘What does the customer want to buy?’"

Thanks Prof. Drucker. Rest in Peace.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Unhappy Campers

I was checking out a blog the other day called and the post of the day entitled, "Easy Pickin's." It was essentially telling recruiters that if they were looking to recruit middle managers, the low hanging fruit was made up of thousands of middle managers who, according to a recent survey done by Accenture, were very unhappy campers.

One of the cute lines in the blog entry said it this way: " can't swing a cat in any large corporation without hitting an unhappy middle manager." It certainly went a long way to painting a very vivid word picture of the stats included in the survey such as: 58% of the respondents said they would consider changing jobs while 30% indicated they were actually actively looking for a new gig. This was up from 21% in the same survey last year.

While I was reading over the comments, it reminded me that it wasn't only middle managers who were "not feeling the love" as they are wont to say on Sports Center. I don't know how long Accenture has been running their survey, but at ExecuNet we have been running one for the past 13 years – 14 in January. What struck me was that a lot of this must, as they also say "flows downhill" because our membership is made up of senior-level executives who are also plenty interested in their careers, but the last time we asked, some 61% of our respondents said they were not happy in their current jobs, and a whopping 77% said they planned to do something about it in next six months.

Based on the number of "landings" that our members are reporting on a monthly basis, it would appear they are making good on the threat, and while the grass may or may not be greener, they care very much about finding that out for themselves.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fun, Profits, and Causes

There is so much hype these days around the renewed war for talent that it becomes more and more difficult to find someone who you really feel has something to say that "sticks with you."

Those who recently attended IACPR's (International Association of Corporate & Professional Recruiters) national conference in NYC, however, had the chance to hear a keynote address given by Greg Lucier, the CEO of Invitrogen, a 5,000 employee company and leading player in the world of life sciences. Lucier is also an alum of GE, which might help explain why IACPR asked him to talk about talent acquisition and retention or as he titled his talk, "Which Talent Issues Keep CEOs Up At Night."

While I was not able to attend the conference myself, several of our staff did, and as a member of IACPR, I got a chance to read Greg's speech in the association's September newsletter. I wish I could have heard it live.

He made so many points that rang true, e.g. "...The first is that nobody really wants to work for a company, they want to work for a cause -- something bigger than they are that will make them feel good about where they work and spend so much of their time. The second is that the truism -- working for a cause not a company -- is radically changing the workforce of today from one that was in search of excess, to one that is in search of meaning, that wants to give back. Events like 911, global terrorism, the Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina have left an indelible mark on all of us. Today's workforce wants to be committed to something more than just profits." "...And my theory is that great companies stand for a principle, and great people will want to flock to them." We hear comments from our members that speak to this issue on a daily basis when they talk to us about what's next in their lives.

Another point that Lucier made that hit me was when he not only was speaking about a company culture, but also about a company "...having merchandise that also stands for something." Not to sound too parochial about, but it made me think about what ExecuNet was all about. People so often want to put us in the "commercial job board" space when in fact, that really isn't what we are about. Sure, we have very senior-level executive jobs, have been for 18 years, but that is only one element of what we are all about. If job postings were all we were about, we'd be out there scraping and publishing along with the rest of them, but we learned long ago that ads, even hundreds and hundreds of them in one big pot, is not how most executives make changes in their professional work lives. They make them via real relationships that are built on trust over time. So, what we set out to do was to build a community that allowed executives to come together with each other (and if they wanted to) with the search community in what we call "in confidence and with confidence."

Lastly, Lucier also threw out a wonderful phrase that I thought captured the essence of what would draw people to any organization as well as help keep them there once they were on board. The phrase was "...reputation (what you do when people are watching and integrity (what you do when they aren't)." The point being, of course, that the former, if it's good can only come from living by the latter.

How many of us as leaders have been asked the following question by someone considering either buying our product or service or considering joining our organization: "How do you measure your success?"

I have to admit that it made me smile inside because our answer has always been "by reputation."

Friday, November 04, 2005

TV Doesn't Begin To Do It Justice

This past Friday, Peter Clayton,'s senior producer/director came by our office to tape an interview with our President & COO Mark Anderson and myself. He wanted our take on the current trends in the executive jobs marketplace. Both Mark and I had met Peter as the result of prior interviews with, which if you haven't checked it out, I would strongly urge you to do so. They are doing some really cutting edge stuff in the career management arena, not only in terms of the content they are providing, but from a technology perspective in how it is made available to listeners.

The purpose in bringing all this up here is not to drum up folks to run and listen to the interview (I actually have no idea when it is due to air) but to share some thoughts about a subject Peter, Mark, and I were talking about both before and after the taping.

What we were talking about was Katrina, New Orleans, Gulfport, and the whole aftermath of this catastrophic event. We got on the subject because Peter had just returned from the area as the result of a film assignment he was on for Coca Cola.

I guess what struck me so deeply was the difference in hearing someone talk about their impressions and feelings about something which they had viewed with their own eyes on site versus the feeling one gets from looking at the same scene between dinner and dessert while listening and watching Brian Williams.
It isn't that you don't have feelings of deep sorrow and compassion for what you see on TV, it just seems that the "noise level" on TV when it comes to the "sorrow and compassion" scale seems so constant, consistent and at such high volume all the time, that it makes one lose perspective. It's like you look and listen, and say to yourself, "Wow, that's just horrible” or “I have no idea what I would do if that happened to me and my family, but man I’m so glad it didn't" and then asking your wife what she did with the sports section.

Listening to Peter describe what he saw, looking into his eyes one could see the scars and wounds. His tone of voice was filled with the emotion that can only come from seeing something that was just overwhelming in terms of one's ability to digest the sights, sounds, and smells of disaster "live and in color."

I used to think that I had empathy. Now I wasn't so sure.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Things To Aspire To

It is hardly a military secret that for the most part, professional development rests with the person. This is one of the reasons that we decided long ago to form an alliance with the Harvard Business Review in order to provide it as a resource to our members. Anyone who has been around business for any length of time is well aware of the quality of what they publish.

Thanks to this resource, and to my partner Mark Anderson, I recently had the chance to read a piece by Jim Collins (the same Jim Collins who wrote the current best-seller, From Good to Great) titled, Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. When Mark first passed it along suggesting it might be a good article to blog about, I thought, maybe that was just a nice way of saying that there was a message in it for me, and that I needed to "shape up," but I didn't need an article to tell me that. Indeed, at my age, I figure I am so far beyond repair that all the articles in the world wouldn't help much. Once I read the piece, however, I agreed with Mark that it had much to say to anyone, no matter where they might be in their career.

The debate on the subject of whether leaders are born or made may run second only to the debates that rage around Big Bang theories, stem cell research, abortion rights, the pros and cons of the Yankees trying to buy championships, and trying to determine if "Fair and Balanced" is an accurate tag line for Fox news. In other words, it is a debate that is not likely to be decided anytime soon.

That being said, it doesn't mean that people are not still very interested in the subject, and continually try to break the code. In this article, Collins says he can't break that code, but he does say that of the 1,435 companies that appeared on the Fortune 500 since 1965, only 11 made it onto the list of companies that had level 5 leaders at the time that the companies faced a pivotal time in their history. It is fascinating stuff.

In the face of such stats, it makes it pretty clear that the odds of any of us making it to a level 5 are pretty remote, but with the information that he shares in this article in terms of the characteristics of a level 5, anyone who aspires to a leadership role or who is in a leadership role and is committed to trying to improve his/her performance as a leader would do well to invest the time to read what Prof. Collins has to say.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Next Bus Stop

Given the levels at which we operate ($100,000+) the average age of our membership is in their mid to late 40s. As such, when it comes time for them to make a career change – either voluntary or involuntary -- it usually doesn't take too long before we start hearing from people who in one way or another are saying to me "Dave, it is a lot harder making a change once you get past 45." My sometimes too flippant comeback is "Welcome to the NFL." I then usually tell them that among other things, if they haven't sat in on our FastTrack webinar How To Land The Job You Want When You're Over 45 featuring Jean Walker that this would be a something to consider.

One of the things that Jean does in this program, is she asks people to share resources with each other, and one of the ways in which she does this is to ask us to share with the group a book or books from which others on the call would benefit. We end up with some very potent lists. One of the books that almost always shows up is Jim Collins' book entitled: Good to Great. If you haven't read it, I would certainly recommend it, but that is not why I mention it here. I mention it because in the book, Collins uses an analogy about "getting the right people on the right bus in the right seats."

I love the analogy because it really captures the reasons that either caused people to make an involuntary change or motivates them to make a change on their own. It also reminds me why over the years our membership has shifted from largely senior-level executives who were looking for executive-level jobs because they had been put through the shredder during the recession of the early 90s to a membership that is currently and predominantly made up of senior-level executives who are not only very concerned about the direction in which the bus they happen to be on at the moment is going, but who also are acutely aware that whether they like it or not, the bus could come to a screeching halt and they would have to find another bus.

In short, it all reminds me of that old quote "failing to plan is planning to fail." Back in the days of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, the conventional wisdom was that if you were loyal to the organization, the organization would be loyal to you. It took the recession of the 90s to destroy the myth once and for all and for executives to really internalize the fact that at the end of the day, nobody cares about you more than you. If you are not proactive in terms of trying to manage your professional work life, the only thing you can be sure of is that "the world is going to happen to you" no matter what, so you had best be your own bus driver.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

When Recruiters Speak, Candidates Listen

To say that we get questions from our members on a daily basis would be an understatement; we get them by the minute both by phone and/or via email. We don’t mind, it comes with the territory, and indeed, as a membership organization we encourage it. So the volume is not what surprises me, just the reverse in fact, it pleases me. What surprises me, even after nearly 18 years of involvement is that the number one question, bar none, has always revolved around relationships with recruiters.

The next understatement would be that the questions that we get on the subject of relationships with recruiters are purely based on simple intellectual curiosity. Not, as my British friends would say, "bloody likely." Most of the time, they are questions filled with passion and fueled by frustration.

Number one on the frustration list is "Why does it seem like I never hear back from these SOB’s?" There are, of course, all sorts of answers, including the fact that the same social spectrum in which people reside outside of the recruiting world, also exists within it. Simply, there are people who are discourteous and unprofessional on both the recruiter side and the candidate side of the career aspiration equation.

Given the emotionally charged atmosphere that surrounds the ongoing relationship between candidates and recruiters, it should not have been surprising to me that when we offered up a

Web based FastTrack program
featuring Naples Florida based recruiter Dave Dart, Managing Partner of the Morisey Dart Group,that it would produce more than just passing interest as indeed it did.

What made the program special wasn't so much that Dave provided the audience with real insights into the world of executive recruitment, although for sure his sincere and candid style opened many eyes. No, what made it special was Dart's understanding of the frustration that many candidates feel both because of the perception many executives have of the search world, which is compounded by the lack of knowledge that they bring to the relationship. Dave's answer to this challenge was a commitment from the start of the program that he was prepared to stay online until the audience had no further questions, no matter how long that was and he did just that.

For more than an hour Dave answered questions from right and left field, as well as those where people were throwing curve balls. He answered them all, and in doing so, Dart put a lot of points on the board for the search community as well as himself. His audience appreciated it, and so did we for his having invested the time to give people a chance to meet and talk with a recruiter, as Howard Cosel used to say, "Up close and personal."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Online Recruiting Grows Up?

It seems that articles about sites that are into electronic networking are running second only to stories about oil, Iraq and hurricanes. They are all over the place. One that caught my eye recently appeared on New York Newsday's website written by Patricia Kitchen and entitled: Online Recruiting Grows Up.

The article talks about a number of the services that have surfaced over the past year or so that come at the whole concept of recruiting and how it ties into networking from a number of different angles and probably more importantly, by degrees. There seems to be a service that looks to cover everything from one degree to six.

The technology that we now have at our collective disposal really is mind-boggling to say the least and, I have to admit, lots of fun. The name that has been given to most of these "linking" services pretty much falls under the heading of "social networks." That is a pretty broad term, and maybe misleading when it comes to career management. It may give people the impression that the kind of linkages that I can gain through an electronic network all of a sudden becomes the "universal solvent" for job changing. That feels like wishful thinking – or linking -- to me.

While I am more than willing to share all kinds of information with people that I know, or for that matter, even know well, the number of times that I would cash in a "connection" chit by picking up the phone and calling someone with whom it has taken me many, many years to build a relationship with is quite another matter.

I don't think there is any question that the technology we have at our fingertips has made research on any number of levels much easier, and that goes for connecting or re-connecting with friends, former colleagues, ex-wives or whatever, but when it comes to managing one’s career, we need to keep some things in perspective. What we have are any number of wonderfully cool "enablers," but there is a big difference between something that enables or facilitates a connection and the building of a real relationship that is based on trust. That, it seems to me, still takes lots of time, and preferably face-time.

I am not saying that "networking" is not important, particularly when one is either in or looking in the world of executive jobs. Indeed, just the reverse. At ExecuNet we think it’s not only important, we think it is critical. That being said, we also believe that real "networking" is about the building of relationships that start with one degree introductions, be they face-to-face, as we do at our various networking meetings around the U.S. and Canada or via the electronic networking a member can do in the course of trying to help someone else by sharing ideas, experiences, leads, or ideas.

No matter how one facilitates the connection, I still think that Dale Carnegie had it right when he said, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can win in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Ethics of Retention

As any number of us have seen, the articles and warnings about the "sky is falling" when it comes to the dearth of talent in the coming years is all around us. BusinessWeek has had cover stories on the subject in one form or another for the last few weeks. There are also any number of discussions on the topic going on for a long time at the Electronic Recruiting Exchange site. One of the most recent was contributed by Kevin Wheeler who writes on staffing topics very frequently and with, in my opinion, great wisdom. Kevin is the President of Global Learning Resources, Inc., a consulting firm that helps companies figure out recruiting strategies.

Kevin's most recent piece was entitled Skill Shortages, Ethics, and Innovative Thinking and he makes a number of good points, but I thought the most important were those that focused on "ethics."

While we at ExecuNet are not recruiters, we certainly are up to our ears in the "staffing space" as they call it or on an even broader basis, up to our ears in the "career management" space. As a company we have been running around both arenas for 18 years come January. On a personal level, I have been running around both for more than 40 years. Over that time I have come to notice a couple of things about the world in which I find myself from both a personal and a business perspective:
  1. There is much that comes under the heading of "subjective." Ethics are subjective. As we know all too well from our Peanuts reading days, "Happiness is different things to different people." It can become horribly hair-splitting. Translation: A lawyer’s paradise.

  2. While I can respect everyone's right to define things that are subjective for themselves, the fact of the matter is that if it is subjective, we not only have the right to define it for ourselves, but we have no alternative unless we want to sit back and let someone else dictate the "values" we bring to our lives and hence to our livelihoods.

  3. Both the people and the businesses that I feel have been the most successful and most respected are those that haven't seem to need anyone to define ethics or values. They came with them, built in, because of what they were brought up to believe was "right" and "fair." And they didn't need much more to guide them other than that line that goes something like "Do unto others...."

  4. It has also been my observation that if and when you run into people or businesses whose mantra is more Gordon Geko-like, I walk away and smile to myself thinking of another line I recall hearing somewhere: "Time wounds all heels."
When it comes to the arena within which we operate, we get a pretty good perspective on the spectrum of behaviors that surface when you are dealing with businesses that are unregulated. Sometimes it is not a pretty picture, which is one of the key reasons that the subject of ethics comes about on sites like ERE and why people like Kevin write about them.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Follow the Money

So on the 26th of September, BusinessWeek’s cover story was about super talent leaving Microsoft and the implications that this had for lots of other companies around and about. With that as a backdrop, I suppose I should not have been surprised to see that their cover story for the October 10th issue had a headline that screamed: “STARSEARCH, How to recruit, train, and hold great people. What works, what doesn’t?” Since one of the stats in the story indicated that only 25% of the largest 500 companies are confident that their current talent pool is sufficient, it almost made me feel that the advice offered by the article would be too little too late for the other 75% who apparently either don’t get it in general, or maybe they haven’t had the chance to react to the September 26th issue yet and are just waking up to the fact that many of their “A” players might be thinking about looking for greener pastures. Here at ExecuNet, we have been seeing big time indicators of this feeling for many, many months.

The fact that the vast majority of U.S. companies are still, at least according to this article, trying to figure out how to effectively manage their human capital, while a very unsettling thought, was not what really threw me for a loop. I have to admit that what really got to me was a section of the piece that was called Talent Over Time. It was a table of sorts that listed 15 of what BW called “innovations and fads” of talent management. It started in 1881 with the founding of a business education program at the University of Pennsylvania funded by Joseph Wharton, and ends with the latest “answer” for the training of “hi pots” called “Action Learning” led by such Fortune 500 stalwarts as J&J, IBM, and GE. Why did this throw me for such a loop? Because as I reviewed the list of 15, I realized that I have been part of the business world for 8 of the15 benchmarks. It was a very funny feeling to say the least.

Once I got over that shock (actually I didn’t get over it, I just repressed it) it made me reflect on how I had seen some of these “innovations and fads” play out over the course of my own experience. As I read through the article, and most especially the advice it offered to companies and managers about what not to do, I kept thinking to myself that the only thing that I had seen over the years that really seemed to have an impact was to tie a major portion of a manager’s bonus to the management of his/her staff. By major, I mean like 30%. It got people’s attention. I think it still does.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Danger Quicksand - Have a Nice Day

They told me when I "volunteered" to enter the blogging world that I would be amazed at what I found as I surfed around the blogosphere. They were right. There are so many of these things out there, that it takes practically no time at all to start feeling like an electronic butterfly as you flit from blog-to-blog.

What I have found to date is that I am attracted to blogs that are focused on the world of career management (a term which for many of us may be in the running for oxymoron of the week). The fact that most of us have to work for a living, I guess I should not be so surprised that there is so much "out there" and that there are so many people who are willing to share their experiences and "learnings."

I find myself frequently going back to a blog hosted by David St. Lawrence called, Ripples. Maybe I just like his writing style, and maybe it is because I think we are of the same generation. Not sure, all I know is I check it pretty frequently.

In any event, David wrote this book called, Danger Quicksand - Have a Nice Day, An Unconventional Guide to Surviving Corporate Employment. He was kind enough to send me a copy, which I read with much discomfort and great interest. It is not a pretty picture, but it is one with which an awful lot of executives would relate all too well. The book is filled with, what felt to me, equal parts of cynicism and idealism, all of which comes from bitter experience.

My discomfort in reading the book came from seeing a lot of myself in many of the scenarios he describes, although at least in my own experience, I never felt I was working in a company or for a boss who was unethical.

He thinks a lot of people's experiences in the 21st century will lead toward more and more of us who will be going out on our own in some form, fashion, or another. I think he is more right than wrong. Indeed, as I read one particular "learning" that David shared about careers: "Work is like that rock, paper, scissors game. There is no long-term winning play" -- it made me shake my head in the affirmative. Those words also reminded me that one of the key reasons I started ExecuNet was because I had arrived at a time in my life where I realized how true those words really were (even though I had not articulated them in quite that way) and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do something about it.

David’s "learning" also made me realize that when people ask me about our company, the first words out of my mouth are "it is the most exciting and rewarding thing I have ever done in my life." Why? The answer lay in something else that he shared in this book which he attributes to Lloyd Lemons, a freelance writer. Lemons was writing about something he called "The Joys of a Micro Business." In the piece, Lemons listed the three things that a micro business should be about, and these were:

  1. It should be about bending the world a little, to fit your purpose, by doing something you truly enjoy doing. (I'll drink to that!)

  2. t's about being a catalyst for your own ideas, and not a facilitator of someone else's. (I'll drink to that too!)

  3. It's about personal freedom, largely brought about by the integration of working and living. (I'm still working on the "living" part)

David feels that there is rapid growth among those following this track, and that the Internet is the engine powering the growth. I think he is right on both counts, and consider myself more fortunate than I can say that ExecuNet is a part of it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Frustration with a small "f"

When you see screaming headlines "I'M OUTTA HERE!" -- all in bold red, no less -- it is pretty hard to ignore. Even a casual subscriber to BusinessWeek could not have missed this article, subtitled Why Microsoft is Losing some Key Talent, on the cover of the Sept. 26th issue. Once you got past the MS-bashing slant of the story, which may or may not be deserved for all I know, I thought I sensed something else that was a broader message than just that people were bailing out of MS at a rate that made one think that maybe Redmond, WA was about to become a ghost town.

It isn't only BW that has been doing stories where the common thread from headline to headline is RETENTION. We have been reading about it ever since the McKinsey white paper on the War for Talent. Those who are seeking executive jobs are coming off the sidelines and getting back into the game.

In our own survey feedback, we see the "itch" manifesting itself in a different way as survey respondents talk about the degree to which they are unhappy campers and the degree to which they plan to do something about it sooner, rather than later.

As I read this cover story in BusinessWeek I wondered if in the years ahead we would be looking back on it as the same sort of "benchmark" that seemed to happen back in '92 when IBM announced to the world that it too was going to have layoffs. Hence, we all finally woke up to the fact that there never was anything "real" about the Puritan Work Ethic and "lifetime employment" in return for individual "loyalty" to the corporation was pure fiction.

The whole thing got me to wondering where the "breaking point" happens. What is it that causes people to "act" rather than simply complain when they feel that not everything is going their way? I have never met anyone in my life, myself included for sure, who arrived at work every morning or left it every night feeling like if the world needed a model for the most utopian organization on the planet, they need look no further. Just run us through the organizational Xerox machine and your troubles are over.

There is an old saying that goes something like: "There are two things that cause people to act: Inspiration and desperation." Maybe it ought to be re-worded to say "inspiration and big time frustration." The BW story outlined the reasons that many of the talented people at MS said they were jumping ship, and the common thread I saw was "frustration." Frustration at the change in culture that seems to happen as organizations move from the fluidity of start-up to one of becoming part of the "establishment." The change that seems to happen to so many companies when it goes from "us against the world" to "the world against us."

I think every company, big or small, sees this sort of thing going on. It certainly is nothing new, and they all are trying -- to varying degrees -- to avoid the consequences of a cultural change that turns "inspiration and dedication" into "frustration and desperation."

We are also all looking for answers. We are looking for the "universal solvent" for retention, especially in the age of the war for talent.

I not only know I don't have the answer, I sometimes wonder if I even have a "clue." As we and other companies struggle with this issue on a daily basis, I just keep coming back two words: Communications and Collaboration.

If you can create and maintain an environment where you are willing to constantly and consistently share information with everyone, coupled with a problem-solving process where people feel that it is about consultative collaboration, you at least stand a decent chance at retaining those people who can and will get "frustrated" but over the long haul it will hopefully be with a small "f" not a big "F." Even in those instances where a decision may not go their way or they might have felt if they were "king" they would do it differently, they will still go home at night and after a glass of wine will say to anyone who'll listen, "Yeah, they aren't perfect by a long shot, but the dumb bastards’ hearts are in the right place. At least they are trying."

People can be pretty understanding if they see effort.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Power to the Sellers!

There are all kinds of signs, and have been for many months now, that the law of supply-and-demand is starting to surface once again in the executive jobs market place. Our own data has reported it and our monthly surveys with the search community also reflects the trend. And when the supply-and-demand pendulum starts to swing, the executive's search for the "better" executive job heats up. Translation: The "A" players are headed out looking for, as they say in the NFL, "respect."

If you checked out the cover story in this week's issue of BusinessWeek, the focus is on the departures of key players from Microsoft, simply serving to underscore the level of dissatisfaction among the executive ranks. One of the ways we see the manifestation of the BW headline "We're Outta Here" is when we look at the make up of our membership as the economic times shift. A couple of years ago, roughly 30% of our membership was made up of people who described themselves as "employed and monitoring the market." Now, nearly 70% fall into that group.

We have been hearing about the so-called War for Talent ever since the well-known McKinsey study was published way back when. McKinsey was saying, among other things, that for the next 20 years or so, the most critical corporate resource was going to be "talent."

So what else is new? Hasn't that really always been the case? Sure, innovation can help a company gain a competitive advantage, but that doesn't last forever. The only really sustaining competitive advantage any company has is made of the people who work there, and that "advantage" is driven more by their collective attitude than anything else. Golden handcuffs may keep them physically on-site, but it doesn't necessarily keep them mentally engaged.

It is also well documented that it costs far more to replace experience than it does to retain it. Most organizations know very well who their "A” players are. I wonder how many really know or try to find out how those "A" players really feel? If "retention" is really the issue du jour for business today (and I believe it is) then I would suggest that the most critical factors in achieving that objective can be found in the other two "R" words: Respect & Recognition.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Blogs & Unhappy Campers

With the gut-wrenching horror of Katrina it is pretty hard to even think about anything else, much less write about anything else, but here goes anyway.

Since I am new to the "blogosphere" as they call it, I read with some interest (pre-Katrina) an op-ed piece in the NY Times by Jeremy Blackman entitled:
Job Posting. [Free registration required.] Essentially it was an argument that blogs posted by employees should be protected by law even if what the blog has to say would not make the company very happy.

It's an interesting question, and if it works like most things legal, it will be many moons indeed before there is enough case law to sort it out from a legal perspective. Given the way courts rule, I am not sure I would even make a wild guess as to how it would all turn out, but that doesn't mean that I don't have a point-of-view. Not that the fact that I have an opinion means much, or the fact that I have had the experience of being an employee, but I have also had the experience of being an employer for the past 17+ years. This fact doesn't make me unique either, but at least it has made me think about this maybe a bit differently that I might have had I only had the experience of being one or the other only. Funny how your perspective can change as your role changes.

I am sure that by now most of us have read about the instances where employees have been fired for what they have said about their employer on their personal blog. I guess the answer lies somewhere between freedom of speech and the lengths to which one has to go to prove libel, defamation of character, or damages as the result of lost business and probably a host of other legalisms about which I know nothing and fervently hope I never will have to know anything.

So the question before the house is: should bloggers who write about their employers be protected by laws? I think the question is, in large measure, academic, because I think they are now, and will continue to be as things evolve. The balance between managing the relationship between employers and employees it not easy. Employers ended up with unions because their actions over time "earned" them unions. We have laws against discrimination, and laws regarding minimum wages, and drawers full of other stuff because the actions of employers over time made it clear there was a need for them.

I am enough of an idealist to still believe (maybe “hope” is a better word) that for a very large percentage of the population on both sides of the employer/employee relationship you really don't need laws to protect either party. If you have decent people dealing with decent people, by and large, the right things get done, and the right things happen. It is when one side or the other tries to take advantage of the other that things go downhill in a hurry.

How do I net this out? I would say it this way -- It is one thing to bad mouth your boss or your company at a cocktail party or over some beers at a sports bar, but doing the same thing in cyberspace feels different to me. Should bloggers be protected? I guess my answer is to some degree yes, but not to the point where they are free to take shots at their employer because they are honked off by whatever.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Knowing What You Don't Know

My recent posting on running a successful enterprise and running a successful job search and how they were two different animals generated some discussion. Lifelong success at the former didn't automatically translate to success in the latter. One of the comments that came after that posting went up was the following:

Dave, I will add one more item to your list ..... loss of familiarity. We have had decades of experience in running companies or doing our jobs and are extremely familiar with what needs to get done under different circumstances. Not many of us have the experience running a job search campaign ..... and the natural tendency is to revert back to what we are familiar with and fill up our time with activities that are not necessarily valuable in terms of job search.

The comment got me to thinking of just how on target this person's posting was. Executives who are masterful at what they do in the business world frequently are virtually clueless when it comes to managing a job change, and one of the key reasons why is because, if they are lucky, it isn't something with which they have had (or will have) a lot of experience.

The result ranges from people who understand that they "don't know what they don't know" and make a concerted effort to acquire the appropriate knowledge and then apply it to what by then is a well thought out strategy. At the other end of the spectrum, one sees those who also indeed "don't know what they don't know" but are in denial. They then jump into the fray based on a strategy that can best be described as "Ready-Fire-Aim." For those at this end of the scale, it is usually accompanied by all kinds of frustrations and fault-finding directed anywhere other than at themselves.

They are quick to fault the market place for their lack of wisdom in not recognizing the value that they represent or would bring to an organization. It isn't that they lack talent or skill, more often than not, it is that they lack the real understanding of how it is that most people really end up making a change and the degree to which learning how to both market themselves and become really effective in extending and building their network impacts their chances for success.

Monday, September 12, 2005

And This Surprises You?

Why it took me until now to stumble across a study that was jointly conducted by AgeWave, The Concours Group, and Harris Interactive I don’t know, but given that my reading these days seems to be pretty much confined to scanning the online NY Times in the morning and dashing through the WSJ on my way out for lunch I guess that might explain it. Fortunately for me, colleagues like Lauryn Franzoni keep an eye out for things that they think might be of interest, and this study certainly was.

The survey included 7,718 workers “…in every industry about the current and future profile of the American workforce.” From this data, they then identified six “distinct categories (i.e. profiles) of workers who differences derive more from attitudes toward work and life circumstances than age, gender, race, or ethnicity.”

In a nutshell, the profiles played out as follows:

  1. Self-Empowered Innovators (14 percent): Hardworking, entrepreneurial, well-educated and self-empowered. They want work that’s stimulating and that serves a larger social purpose.

  2. Fair & Square Traditionalists (20 percent): Highly reliable and loyal with below average education and above average incomes. They work hard and expect to be paid for it.

  3. Accomplished Contributors (17 percent): Team players who work hard and have a very positive attitude toward their employers, colleagues and workplace. They want to learn and grow on the job.

  4. Maverick Morphers (15 percent): Salient characteristics are confidence, intellectual curiosity and high energy. These are the innovators who generally do best in smaller organizations.

  5. Stalled Survivors (19 percent): Stressed out. Want a good paycheck and a fun work environment for now but something more productive and successful down the road. This is the youngest group.

  6. Demanding Disconnects (15 percent): The least satisfied and productive segment. Want their employers to step up and provide extensive benefits but are willing to provide little energy or commitment in return.

Source: Joint Study of Age Wave (, The Concours Group ( and Harris Interactive Inc. (
The big “worry” that was talked about in the survey summary I read was this:

“Most distressing, they said, is the finding that the youngest workers, tomorrow’s leaders, are uncommitted to their work and often constitute a negative influence in the workforce. At the same time, older workers are blossoming, showing a can-do attitude across much of the workforce. The challenge for corporations is transitioning the variety of attitudes for the benefit of the company, and nurturing future business leaders.”

Having tried to digest all this, and if I had the wherewithal, I was tempted to take out one of those neat looking full page ads in the NY Times that would have said in so many words “and this surprises you?” Is this not a condition with which the “boomers” and the Gen X and Gen Y world are all too familiar?

In the world in which we at ExecuNet operate on a daily basis, we have the opportunity to talk with a lot of people who are in very senior-level executive jobs, and there are precious few I have talked to over time who aren’t worried about the same thing that this survey points out, and as an aside, they feel like they “blossomed” quite some time ago. They do, however, spend a good deal of their time trying to deal with the issue of commitment -- in some cases their own, and in others that of their subordinates.

To me, it doesn’t feel like much of a mystery. The generations they are talking about who are “uncommitted” is made up of “kids” who grew up watching what happened to their moms and dads who traded loyalty to an organization in return for what they foolishly believed or wanted to believe was job security. When the reality of the myth was revealed, companies have been challenged ever since to try and figure out how to regain the trust of their employees. It is, I believe, trust that is the engine that drives real commitment. I also believe it is commitment that is the single most important element that gives any organization a competitive advantage, especially when it comes to the incremental productivity that is out there for every organization beyond that which comes from the application of technology.

Maybe it’s just my rose-colored glasses that they give to those of us who fall into the category of the workers who somehow still have this so-called “can-do” attitude or maybe it is because once or twice over the past 40+ years I was fortunate enough to work for a manager that showed me the difference in how someone feels when they are “working for” versus “working with.” It wasn’t that I didn’t always understand who the boss was, but the way I was coached and counseled that made me feel truly “valued” and which translated itself into commitment with a capital “C”.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Devil You Know vs. The Devil You Don't Know

Since I have only been introduced to the world of blogging relatively recently, I had no idea just how addictive it could become. Not so much in terms of posting stuff myself, but in roaming around and reading what others are blogging about. It doesn't take long before you are reading a good deal of pretty fascinating stuff.

I am passing along one of the most recent postings I came across because so many of our members are either a part of or very interested in becoming engaged in a small business (preferably one that they own).

The blog site is called Small Business Trends and is run by Anita Campell. She writes some very interesting stuff plus a free newsletter that I also signed on for. In any case, she recently posted an article that caught my eye called Starting Small Businesses Later In Life. It caught my attention because in the surveys we have done of our membership for the past 13+ years, we see data that tied in very well with information she shared from a Yahoo! Small Business/Harris Interactive survey that gauged entrepreneurial attitudes.

The survey results, among other things, showed that 56% of those responding (and they had over 2,200 responders) said they wanted to own their own business later in life. When Anita was writing about this, she ginned up this chart which makes the results even more eye-catching.

While people wanting to own their own business may not be such a revelation, something Anita said in her posting came as a bit of an eye-opener to me. She said in part:

"This desire to continue working later in life seems at odds with another trend, that of people foregoing high-pressure corporate positions or jobs that bore them, for lifestyle reasons. People are saying they do not want to be part of the rat race. Is this really at odds with conventional wisdom?”

Not really. What I believe is happening is that people are moving towards better integration between their work and the rest of their lives. They see owning their own business as offering flexibility. The choice is no longer either work at a demanding pace or not work at all. Instead, they can work at something they really enjoy at a pace that fits with the rest of their lives. When work and personal life are integrated better, with flexible work hours and conditions, they want to continue working."

I kept reading and re-reading this and wondering if this was really the case. For sure I know very few people who wake up in the morning saying "Boy, I can't wait for the rat race to get started again today!" I think that many of us wake up in the morning thinking, "Wow, how great would it be if I were my own boss!" No more political BS, I can start and stop when I want, no more worry about my job being the next one to be downsized. How great is that?"

My answer is, “Not a great as you might think,” and in many respects the downsides of the rat race are simply replaced with the downsides of owning your own business. One source of stress is replaced with another. There is, however, one critical difference between the two that makes dealing with the stresses a bit easier -- passion and belief in what you are doing.

I don't know about anyone else out there who has left the rat race and went out on their own, but at least in my case, what I would share with Anita (and maybe others who are thinking about all this) is that while it is very true that most of us in “later life" want to continue working that does not necessarily translate into the tidy integration of work and personal life. I went from a 5 day a week stressed out person to a 7 day a week stressed out person, and the "integration of work and personal life" didn't start to happen for me until I was 17 years into ExecuNet and my wife made what she calls a "management decision," changing the distance between work and home from 7 miles to 140 miles.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Who Needs Emotional Intelligence?

I was talking to Robyn Greenspan the other day. Robyn edits one of our newsletters called CareerSmart Advisor. Robyn is also probably the closest I'll ever get to knowing a reality TV show celebrity - her brother is one of the contestants on Martha Stewart's soon-to-debut Apprentice show, but that's another story.

Robyn was talking to me about doing a piece on EI. At first I thought she meant one of our other newsletters called Executive Insider, but that wasn't the case. She was talking about what is known in the trade as Emotional Intelligence which came from Daniel Goleman's book Working with Emotional Intelligence. Since I had not read Goleman's book, and knowing my type A personality, she gave me the cliff note definition of EI which went like this: "...the ability to make decisions based on assessing the feelings of others and self." She also shared with me the EI (aka EQ -Emotional Quotient) competency set from Goleman's book:

  • Self-Awareness – knowing your internal emotional status and behavioral tendencies. Includes: emotional awareness, accurate self-assessment and self-confidence.

  • Self-Regulation – managing your internal state and external impulses. Includes: self control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability and innovation.

  • Motivation – tendencies that facilitate reaching goals. Includes: achievement drive, commitment, initiative and optimism.

  • Empathy – awareness of the feelings of others needs and concerns. Includes: understanding others, developing others, service orientation, leveraging diversity and political awareness.

  • Social Skills – proficiency in promoting desirable responses in others. Includes: influence, communication, conflict management, leadership, change catalyst, building bonds, collaboration and cooperation, and team capabilities.

Source: Adapted from Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, PhD

So I am reading and talking about all this and wondering what all the excitement is about. Doesn't it just stand to reason that if a leader does a good job at "assessing the feelings of others and self" that things would go a heck of a lot better than if they didn't? I mean how hard it that to understand? Isn't it just common sense?

After congratulating myself on the fact that I didn't need a book to tell me all this, that, after all, these were all traits that I saw myself as having in spades, I then paused to ask myself, “Well look Dave, if you had all this EI DNA going on then how was it that you have had more than your fair share of managerial screw ups over the years? And by the way, if you see yourself as such an EI superstar, how come you didn't do a better job at raising your kids, or how come you were batting considerably less than 1.000 when it came to making hiring decisions or any of the other nearly limitless items you could add to such a list?”

The more I thought about it, the faster it brought me back to the reality that understanding something on an intellectual level was a hell of a lot different than understanding it on an emotional level and certainly much easier on either level than living it day-to-day.

I guess that's one of the reasons why there will always be a rich market for people to help coach me to learn and apply what I already "know".

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Not Happy With the Result? Just Quit

Blogs, I guess, are sometimes viewed as some sort of electronic confessional, at least as they are used by some bloggers and viewed by some blog readers. That being the case, I confess that I am a bit of a sports junkie. It is probably due to the fact that I was such a poor student in grammar school that by the time I got to high school I found myself in school six days a week trying to catch up, and the only respite from the "catching up" was sports. In any case, here I am still mad because the Dodgers moved; I’m wondering if the Knicks will make it back to the NBA finals in my life time; and worried sick that Eli Manning might not be "the answer" and if I should start a petition to bring back Y.A. Tittle.

What got me thinking about all this? While doing my three hour, 143 mile weekend commute to my house in Rhode Island, I came across a sports nut named Jim Rome, that I now understand (and after listening to him was not surprised to learn) has had millions of listeners for many years (he calls them "clones"). Jim rants about a lot of stuff, has a great and funky sense of humor, which is reflected back in many of the calls and/or e-mails that he gets during the course of a broadcast and many of which are very funny.

While the focus is sports, we all know perfectly well that sports and what goes on in sports is simply a microcosm of our society in general, and as such, Rome often talks about things that remind you just how unimportant some things are and -- more importantly -- reminds you to keep things in perspective.

By way of example, this past Friday, he was talking about why he had decided to give up golf. He called it a tough game, and said it was too hard to really get good. And besides, he read a story from a paper somewhere out West about a guy who had been in a wheelchair since he was injured in an auto accident nearly 20 years ago and who had just scored the second hole-in-one in his career. With his semi-sarcastic humor, he was telling the audience that he was going to quit since clearly the odds of an able-bodied person getting a hole-in-one was almost actuarially impossible, and here was a man in a wheelchair who had not only gotten one but two, there was certainly no point in Rome working any more at trying to get any better.

Rome then went on for roughly ten minutes talking about the scores of things that most of us complain about all the time as we feel frustrated about really important stuff like people who don't signal for turns or feeling sorry for ourselves because things didn't go so well at the office. I can't recall all the examples he gave, but after each one he would just say "Quit." As he continued with example after example, it just made you feel smaller and smaller and more ashamed of yourself when you realized that any time you think you have put effort into something and haven't attained your goal maybe you needed to rethink the word “effort.” I thought about it even as I was stuck in traffic and waiting behind all those folks headed to Cape Cod.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Working With Recruiters - Oxymoron?

One of the sites I routinely visit is the Electronic Recruiting Exchange. It is not only well organized and well run, the content and discussions are quite interesting and would be, I think, even if your DNA does not include recruiting.
Given the volume of complaints that I have heard over the years about what some laughingly refer to as "working with recruiters" it was with considerable interest that I read a recent article posted by Kevin Wheeler, President and Founder of a recruiting strategy consulting firm called Global Learning Resources.

In short, Kevin was pointing out that most, if not all, of the technology has been developed to help the recruiter while the candidates is left to try and fight his way through it or around it. If you read his piece my guess is that you would probably agree.

Among other things, what struck me about what Kevin was saying is that unless my experience was unique (which I seriously doubt) along with the experiences for literally thousands of our members with whom I have spoken over the years (which I also seriously doubt) the disadvantages faced by a candidate have been around long before job boards, e-mail, voice mail, applicant tracking systems, and web sites, all of which are discussed in this piece.

As I read further and looked over the proposed Candidate Bill of Rights put forth by recruiting site Accolo it reminded me of all the neat sounding "mission statements" that companies spent hundreds of hours and millions of dollars having consultants help them craft to create something that really amounts to nothing more than treating people with respect. I have never felt it was about words, I have always believed that is was about individual value systems.

As the old saying goes, "actions speak louder than words." When it comes to the things that candidates resent in terms of "working with recruiters" they way they manage the relationship is by having a very short list in their pocket of those recruiters who they will call to help them fill the executive jobs that will surface in their new gig.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Running a Business & Running a Job Search: Different Animals As They Say

Based on the stories people have shared with me over the years, I should (and do) consider myself among the really lucky ones. I have only had to go through a job search twice in my life. And by "job search" I mean looking for a job when I didn't have one, not the type of "search" that happens when a recruiter comes calling. In any event, and even at this stage of the game when I look back on both job changing experiences (one was 18 years ago, and the other more than 30), it takes no time at all to bring back the rush of bad feelings, bad memories, and an anxiety level that probably registers near 10 on the personal stress Richter scale.

It is with this in mind that on a daily basis as we talk with senior level executives in job search that I realize why it is that people who are absolutely brilliant at running businesses are so often absolutely clueless in terms of running a job search. They may be able to predict to within two decimal places the potential market share of a new product, but haven't the slightest notion of how hard it would be to make a job change at the executive level if you are over 50, and while they have prepared their organization to be in a position to deal with any market changes, they have done zilch to prepare themselves for the same threats.

There are, of course, lots of other factors that are involved which include in no particular order:

1. Loss of power to make others take action.

2. Loss of the comfort that comes from having structure around you.

3. Loss of self-esteem - America keeps scores, and if you are not working, that still goes in the L column.

4. Loss of recognition as a leader.

5. Loss of control in one's ability to make choices

6. Loss of motivation to succeed. (I have worked so hard to get to where I am, I can't imagine going through all that again!)

7. Fill in the blank_______________________ And if you need more room, as they say, use the other side of the paper.

When you are not the person affected by an event, it is way too easy to lose one's ability to empathize or understand. Especially because of the ease with which we view the such things from the comfort of air-conditioned homes over a nice dinner and a glass of wine.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Is There Any Such Thing As A Passive Candidate?

Some of you may have seen the article in the WSJ just a few days ago that was talking about the hunger recruiter's have for finding the so called "passive candidate." One of the comments in the article that I thought captured the bias that someone who is unemployed faces was CareerXRoads co-founder Mark Mehler's comment which was "You may be employed on Friday at a big company at a big salary, and at 4:55 on Friday get fired. On Monday [to a recruiter], you're a different person." I don't think many would argue that Mark's comment is, unhappily, right on target.

There certainly is no point in asking why since the bias that is operating in the world of employed versus unemployed simply has to take its place on a long list of stuff like this that has no basis in fact other than ignorance.

But I have often wondered what all the hoopla was around "passive candidates" and more importantly, how does one even define what a "passive candidate" is? There is so much hype around this phrase that one would think that every "passive candidate" was somehow endowed with some super intelligent DNA that those who are more assertive about managing their careers simply don't have. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Indeed I wonder if a lot of the hoopla and hype isn't really marketing copy to help me feel that the ROI I got from the fee I paid to the recruiter was because I hired a "passive candidate" who clearly is superior to anyone else out there because they "weren't actively looking."

Maybe someone else has seen it, but in all the survey data I have seen over the years, I don't recall ever seeing anything that suggested that the "passive" folks did any better than the "active" folks. Indeed, I recall seeing or reading somewhere that a study done by The Center for Creative Leadership found that 40% of new executives failed in the first 18 months on the job. In our annual survey of the executive marketplace that we do every year, the feedback we got from the search community as well as corporate HR departments came in with numbers very much along the same lines.

So, I am sitting here wondering if these executives who are failing are the "passive" ones that recruiters have worked so hard to find and place, or if they are simply the "active" ones who somehow slipped through the screening process? My belief is that one has really very little to do with the other, that when an organization is seeking talent, they would be far better served to look for people who can fix their problems and not worry so much about if a person happens to be working at the present time or not. At the rate we have been downsizing in this country for the past 10 years or so, we are long past the "also rans," and while we're at it, and given the competitive position in which we find ourselves on the global level, we would do well to stop worrying about some of these other "criteria" such as age, sex, race, and a dozen more "factors" I could name.