Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Creating Qualified Talent - Where Does the Responsibility Derive?

There is a pretty hot and heavy discussion that I have been following on ERE (Electronic Recruiting Exchange) that is focused on the issue surrounding the creation of talent and where the responsibility lies for our collective success or failure. The discussion was initiated by Yvonne LaRose, who has a consulting firm in California called Executive Recruiting Entrances.

I have to admit it is a hot button for me. I am not even sure exactly why. I am not even sure if my feelings are driven by fear, anger, or both; I just know they are there. If you have read Tom Friedman's The World Is Flat then you might be able to relate to from whence some of the "fear" part comes.

The anger piece, and I think I have to stay with anger because I am beyond the frustration stage, I think comes from the fact that as a nation we seem to be doing so little about it. The "it" meaning our failing education system.

Most of us have seen the stats in terms of how poorly our education system ranks vs. Europe and Asia. Any company of any size that has done any serious hiring over the past decade has experienced the mind-numbing task of interviewing "kids" who can barely read or write and who have graduated from colleges and universities whose names most would recognize.

I have two quick points-of-view:

1. In terms of where the responsibility derives for the creation of talent, I think it rests with "us." The Feds are not going to fix this. If and when the majority of “us” in the country feel that fixing the educational system is important enough, those we elect will start doing the enabling, but we are going to have to want it badly enough to invest both the time and money to make it happen.

2. Since the Feds can't and won't fix it, I think the leadership needs to influence and persuade the country that it is in our collective best interest to make the investment. This must come from those who have one of the biggest stakes in the outcome -- namely Corporate America.

If you think there is a War for Talent now based on all the hoopla around demographics, etc., try thinking about what it will be like trying to find all the domestic knowledge workers when those who are the products of our crumbling educational system simply can't compete because they simply don't have the "know how." If you think outsourcing is an issue now, hurry up and wait, it could get far, far worse.

There is an old saying that information is power. I think that's true. Information comes from the knowledge that is acquired over time. Certainly one can learn a great deal through practical experience, but for the information age, education is the key.

You can say what you want to about Bill Gates, but I think he "gets it." Look at where he is spending his personal money. There are probably, I hope, many others of our corporate leadership who are doing the same. I happen to be aware of at least one other only because I was once privileged to have worked for the company he headed and knew him, and that's Dave Kearns, former CEO at Xerox. Ever since he left Xerox he has been on the "education case," and not as a recent convert, as the article in BusinessWeek in 1999 demonstrated. It was entitled: The Mission: David Kearns's Crusade to Fix America's Schools and it still rings as true today as it did then, maybe even more so.

I still very much believe that there is no challenge that this country can't meet when and if it sets its collective mind to the task, but it takes commitment before that can be done, and we are a long way from showing that commitment.

If you were interested in following the discussion on ERE, here's the link:

Creating Qualified Talent - Where Does the Responsibility Derive?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Energy & Careers - Work To Be Done

Ric Taylor is a recruiter friend of mine and the Managing Partner and CEO of a firm called Taylor-Rodgers & Associates in Stamford, CT.

Ric has both passion and compassion on a lot of levels, and maybe these are some of the traits that make him so effective as a recruiter.

Among the things that Ric understands is the fact that life is about giving as well as getting. He lives up to this ideal in a number of ways, including going out of his way to provide information or help to the senior-level executives who make up his involvement with what he calls, “SENG -- Senior Executive Networking Group.”

The information that he shares is mostly focused on market trends of one kind or another that help people to look at things on a more macro level, and more often than not these are things that while they are not secret are not necessarily articles or white papers that we would run across in mainstream media.

The other day, I got the note you see below from Ric, which if read becomes pretty self-explanatory.

Here's what he had to say:

"Our Country never ceases to amaze me with its lack of common sense. Here we are facing great energy supply challenges in a dangerous world and so many are lashing out at all the alternatives that can help free us from dependency. Pressure on Congress has once again doomed chances for drilling in ANWR in Alaska. Monday night's NBC political drama The West Wing was an hour-long attack on nuclear power, one of the best and safest alternatives we have. Not to be left behind, the New York Times had a front-page story yesterday morning railing against the natural gas industry, one of the industries doing a fantastic job of meeting our energy needs. The Times wants their taxes to go up! There's a great idea - let's penalize the industry by sending profits that can be used to find more natural gas to bureaucrats in Washington who can't fuel anything!

The two tragic coal-mining accidents in West Virginia this year have unleashed an attack on that industry as well in spite of the fact that safety records are greatly improved over the last 30 years. In short, the only energy alternatives that seem to be getting any press are solar and wind - but they aren't "perfect" either. The Kennedy family opposes a "wind-farm" in Nantucket (Teddy could fuel it by himself!) because it won't look nice. Meanwhile, how are we supposed to fuel economic growth and keep our families warm? Our people have perfected saying "no," and as a country our "idea tank" seems to be running on empty! Like JFK in the early 1960s when he called for ‘putting a man on the moon and bringing him back safely by the end of the decade,’ our President needs to call for energy independence from unstable foreign sources by 2012!

This can be accomplished; this is not ‘pie in the sky.’ Might I suggest that you read a recent white paper by Mr. R. James Woolsey who was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1993-95, one of the four Presidential appointments that he has held in two Republican and two Democratic administrations; these have been interspersed in a career that has been generally in the private practice of law and now in consulting. This presentation was given to our clients last week. It is the same presentation that he gave to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on 11/15/05.

The white paper, prepared by both Woolsey and Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz deals with the dangers of petroleum dependence and some immediate solutions that can be implemented. The paper is a must read for anyone interested in global balance, national security, economics, business and personal planning. This is a white paper that I hope to get into as many hands as possible; I would encourage you to forward it to others."

So what does this all have to do with executive careers? I think it simply is something that underscores even more why when we have surveyed the recruiting community for the past 14 years and asked what characteristic is the most sought after by their clients the resounding answer is leadership. And while one of the key roles of any leader is to motivate, leaders need motivation too. If you're a leader, you should take the time to read what Woolsey had to say. There is work that needs doing.

The link to download this 10-page paper is: here

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Theory vs. Results

Workforce Management Magazine covers a slew of topics that would be of interest to managers at almost any level.

The other day I was drawn to an article titled: Could Your Best New Hire Be a "Recareering" Boomer? It was interesting to me on two levels. First, there was a fair amount of comment in the article that essentially said that keyword searching was still not much help to recruiters. Indeed, there was a quote from Kathy Barton, SVP of Marketing & Product Development for PeopleClick in which she said that technology was not very effective in screening career-changing candidates. She said the best stats indicated that "...the use of keyword searches by the major job boards result in matches less than 10% of the time." The article goes on to talk a bit about the efforts that Peopleclick is making to try and help recruiters match skills and competencies. The problem with all of this, of course, is that once you have the "list" people can, and do, just add them to their own "buzz word" lists and you are pretty much back where you started in terms of trying to assess the characteristics and attributes and "fit" of an individual to the organization's need.

While I was not surprised to read this, it reminded me of the narrowness with which both candidates and recruiters often approach each other.

There are many thousands of "boomers who have been in the rat race for 20 plus years who are very interested in moving into something different and more challenging on many levels. Yet when they try to position themselves in the marketplace, they feel compelled to present themselves to the recruiting world as a series of "buzz words" (i.e. keywords) that put them right back in the mold they are trying to break. Why?

Answer: Because the recruiter's client, who is really worried about the "not invented here" syndrome doesn't dare to ask the recruiter to find someone that doesn't look like a cookie-cutter candidate from within the same industry based on a "list" of what in the technology age become keywords. Sad.

The candidates seem to forget that what has really made them successful in their industry probably doesn't have all that much to do with their industry knowledge as it does with their skills as an executive. Sure, the industry knowledge is a plus, but it is hardly the “be all and end all”. Knowledge can be acquired. Skills have to be developed, but once developed are readily transferable.

What we should be talking about is how the candidate's effectiveness as a manager and the things that includes: their skills as a leader(whatever that may mean), an effective communicator, a motivator, and problem solver.

That a candidate must possess the requisite "skills" for the job is a given, but when it comes to someone who wants to get out of the "box" as many boomers are going to want to do, it isn't a question of skills, it is a question of those with the need taking advantage of the knowledge base that these executives have and not being overly concerned with putting people back in the same sandbox they are trying to escape.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What's in a Logo

Joel Cheesman has a blog on recruitment and search engine optimization. With my level of technical expertise, it took me long conversations with our Tech team before I understood that search engine optimization wasn't just a fancy way of telling me to get my car winterized.

In any case, I read this blog with interest as do beaucoup other folks. He has a fun style to go along with insights that clearly mark him as a keen observer of the recruiting world in general and the online space in particular.

One of his recent posts was titled Kodak's New Logo and a Lesson in Employment Branding. Essentially Joel's point was that companies have more important stuff to be worried about than their logos -- like delivering a quality product and real customer service. He couldn't be more right.

It could be that it is still a "new year" so one still thinks a lot about what has gone before or maybe it was just the way he was driving home the point about logos versus substance that reminded me of why we have stuck to our knitting for the past 18 years. We have been approached many, many times by folks who wanted to partner with us and expand the market we serve. While some of these conversations sounded interesting on the surface, the more we thought about them, the more we came to the conclusion that if we really wanted to serve the senior level executive job marketplace, then we had better just keep our focus right where it has been since Day One.

I looked at our logo and I recalled the discussions that had taken place when we were designing it and agonizing over the different renderings, etc. What we decided was that when it was all over, it really mattered very little. Indeed, there aren't any of us here who even now remember what the other designs were. But there isn't anyone here who doesn't remember who our customer is and why, even with all the ads, blogs, mentions in articles, etc., that as we start 2006, we can still say to people that the single biggest source of new members in ExecuNet comes by referrals from current and/or former members, and when we are asked how we measure our effectiveness, our first response is: by reputation.

Joel's right, there are far more important things than cool looking logos.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Previews of Coming Attractions

This is the time of year when all the talking heads, online and off, TV and print, are making their excuses for 2005 and/or their predictions for 2006. Always fun to see, hear, and read.

The Fed notes that were published recently indicated that they were about finished in terms of pushing up the interest rates and the market closed up 129 for the day. We also see things in magazines like BusinessWeek that tell us things like factories are using nearly 80% of their production capacity; the highest rate in 5 years, and that's without counting what is going on in high tech production output. They also seduce us with info like: The Business Roundtable's CEO Economic Outlook Index rebounded to its 2nd highest level since the survey began in 2002. All very cool and comforting.

Our own data that we have been collecting on the senior executive marketplace uses different data and different words, but comes to the same conclusion. We think 2006, from an economic growth perspective, should be a good one and that means expansion on the jobs front as well.

One of the ways that we see all this is based on the mix of our membership. In bad times, the number of employed but sniffing around members drops as they want to keep their heads down. (Not a great strategy, but human nature nonetheless.) When the market starts to turn, the percentage of these folks who come back to the network rises, and this has been the case here for the past 18 months or so, and doesn't seem to be slowing down, not even over the holidays.

Another way we track this sort of thing, aside from talking with members all the time, is to talk with recruiters continuously as well. For years we have done a survey of recruiters that translates to what we call the Recruiter's Confidence Index and it too continues to rise.

To state the obvious, someone who's employed has to be far more circumspect in terms of how they go about trying to find out if the "grass is greener." True, there a gazillion job boards, but how comfortable someone feels firing off something on a job board is a different issue. Besides, even if they felt reasonably comfortable, responding to a posted opening, it is still about the most competitive situation in which one could place himself.

So what's the alternative? Make a new year's resolution to expand your network. Over the years, when we hear from our members who make a change, 70% of the time they tell us it happened as a result of networking. No time you say? Nonsense. When you have a weapon that is that potent, you can and should make the time.

You are probably the member already of a professional or industry association. Get active! Be more than a name in the member directory. How about personal interests? Chances are the time you spend with family is also tied to organizations, be they political, social, charitable, recreational or faith-based. Get involved!

Woody Allen had it right: "80% of success is showing up."