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.