Monday, April 24, 2006

Selling Experience

Last Tuesday's Journal had a piece entitled: Getting a Foot in the Door at 50-Plus. This article is only one of scores that I am sure we all have seen and continue to see, especially with all the hype around the boomers and their refusal to surrender in the War for Talent.

Given that the average age of ExecuNet's membership is 49, it is not at all surprising that we get lots and lots of questions and comments on the subject of age, age discrimination, age advantages, and lots in between. Since we have been around a while (18+ years) we also have been engaged in the dialogue on this subject for a fair amount of time as well. We also ask about it in our surveys, and in fact just recently did a "flash survey" which confirmed there was still some good news and bad news on the age front.

The good news was that while 63% of the respondents said that age discrimination is a serious problem in today's executive employment market, the percentage was down from the 77% in 2004 and the 82% that was the number in September of '03.

The fact that the percentage is down a fair amount I suspect is tied to both the economic cycle (the economy is lots better now than in '03) and the War for Talent demographics that may be starting to kick in.

I would also like to think that there is also a piece of this that speaks to the "education" of organizations who are discovering that if they don't take advantage of the experience offered by the over 50 cohort, they are shooting themselves in the foot on any number of levels.

Even if we can't ascribe some of this change to an epiphany on the part of employers, maybe it is just pragmatism coming from such factual realities that have been shared by such luminaries as Tom Peters who back in a presentation made at Radio City in September of '05 quoted some stats from David Wolfe and Robert Snyder's book Ageless Marketing which told us that the new customer majority was the age group of 44-65, and that this group was 45% bigger than the 18-43 segment and would be 60% bigger than that group by 2010.

Whatever the case, the facts seem to support two things:

1. Sad to say, age discrimination is alive and well, and

2. The revenge of the grey panthers, at least for the foreseeable future, may be taking shape.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Difference Maker No Matter What

Guy Kawasaki as his bio says, " a managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm and a columnist for Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. where he was one of the individuals responsible for the success of the Macintosh computer." He also has a very, at least to me, interesting blog where he writes about a lot of subjects, but a good deal about customer service.

One of the most recent pieces was called The Art of Customer Service. Guy has a list of 10 points any one of which could be posted in most companies and if followed would stand them in very good stead indeed. I thought it so powerful that I have made a copy to share with our team at our next staff meeting.

It may be an over-reaction on my part, and I know that it goes without saying that if your product or service is not competitive in the marketplace, outstanding customer service is irrelevant, but I truly do believe that all else being relatively equal, customer service is the largest difference you can make.

We live in an age where there is so much emphasis on automation, robotics, scanning, chips embedded in our pets (and our kids?) that it often seems like companies are doing all they can to separate themselves from the customer with an electronic wall. And don't get me wrong, I am all for technology as an enabler, but not as a substitute for customer care, both internally and externally.

Said differently, if you buy the argument that there isn't a heck of a lot of difference in most products or services which are priced roughly the same, then the one thing that can really separate one from the other is how they deal with their customers.

All of us as consumers know all too well what it feels like when customer service is poor. It makes you more than angry, it makes you feel violated and taken advantage of by people who could care less once the check has cleared or card charge has gone through.

Over the years, I have had a lot of people ask me how it is that the vast majority of our members still come to us by referral. My answer has always been the same, I think it's because we have always tried to make sure that we understand the difference between a member and a customer.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Environment or DNA

Last week I was in Chicago attending a conference of folks who these days come under the heading of “human capital professionals.”

Like most conferences this one was filled with networking, power points and pontification. The speakers talked a lot about what we at ExecuNet have come to call “retention deficit disorder.” Companies who are worried that the generational demographics coupled with an economic rising tide will translate into a talent retention nightmare. Could well be. Our recently released 2006 Executive Job Market Intelligence Report says that more than 50% of executives are unhappy campers, and more than 75% plan to vote with their feet in then next six months.

So what’s the answer? Obviously the solution is made up of a lot of things, but to me, it still comes down to something pretty simple. Retention is about relationships. Hell, for that matter, and to state the obvious, life is about relationships. Good ones and bad ones.

I have also always felt that relationships, be they personal or business are fundamentally driven by the attitude that each party brings to it. Hardly an earth-shattering hypothesis. I don’t know if it’s DNA or environment, but my bias is that people, and therefore organizations, can be sorted into two groups. They are generally either “givers” or “takers.” While the “givers” are going to be taken advantage of from time to time (probably because they are too trusting) at the end of the day, it still reminds me of the wonderful Maya Angelou quote:

“People do not remember what you say or what you do, over the years, but they never forget how you made them feel.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What Matters

It is always a good idea to get out of the office every now and again if for no other reason than to make sure that you don’t lose touch with the real world. I had the chance last week to do that in Chicago while attending the national human capital summit put on by one of our alliance partners, The Human Capital Institute.

It was a two-day affair, and I had the chance to not only listen and learn, but also ExecuNet had been asked to chair a panel the title of which was: The Executive Crisis: Grooming the Next Generation of Leaders.

As I reflected on my trip back to Connecticut, I was thinking that HCI might have just as easily used a conference tag line of the old standby: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” While it is almost an embarrassment to admit that it has been nearly two decades since my work days were spent in corporate America, the issues under discussion by such luminaries as Wharton’s Peter Cappelli, or author Richard Florida (Flight of the Creative Class) or other well-known gurus such as Rich Karlgaard, author of Life 2.0 and publisher/columnist for Forbes, or leadership development icon Noel Tichy, gave me a Rod Serling sort of feeling.

The descriptors have changed. Now we call it “human capital” versus “human resources” or “personnel” or “employee relations”, but underneath it all, we were still trying to get our arms around the triad of employer needs, employee needs and life’s impact on both. Twenty years ago this was all more localized. We were just starting to wake up to the notion that there was a global economy. Now it is the case of dealing with all of it via cell phones, Blackberries, and wireless web access.

So what did I net out of the 2 days I spent trying to listen, learn, and where I could contribute to the discourse?

It’s always about leaders and our never-ending struggle to find them or develop them. In addition, it was also clear that the degree to which trust plays the key role in any relationship has a huge impact. Organizations who not only understand this but whose actions demonstrate their understanding daily are the ones who definitely have more than just a leg up in the race to Life 3.0 -- which is just over the horizon.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Find & Replace Feature

As I have mentioned here before, I try to stay tuned into the articles, discussions, and blogs that are all a part of the Electronic Recruiting Exchange. Because the postings are often thought-provoking, I'm a frequent visitor and the most recent piece by Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group called, Why We Lost The War For Talent got my attention.

In the article, he shares some figures from a survey he conducted along with some stats from a Gallup survey. The clear message from both surveys was that while companies recognize that finding good people was a major challenge (59% in the Gallup poll said that it was their "most pressing problem") very few of the companies that Lou polled (of which there were over 350 both big and small) said they felt good about how they were coping with the newest skirmishes in the war for talent.

This certainly squares with our own data. This was one of the many issues we recently addressed in our annual Executive Job Market Intelligence Report for 2006.

What somehow seems pretty weird at this "late date" is that while organizations say they are really concerned about dealing with a human capital marketplace that, absent any unforeseen events, (a sad commentary on the times in which we live) will continue to only get tighter, the number that are really trying to make it a top priority seems incredibly low, especially given the competitive risks at stake. How concerned? Over 80% of the recruiters we surveyed, which included both 3rd party and corporate, were clear in saying that they felt the war for talent was heating up and 79% agreed that there was a shortage of talent at the executive level.

Our survey of executive leadership came back with data that showed some 72% of the senior level executive respondents were planning to get out of Dodge within the next 6 months, and when it comes to filling the holes they will leave behind, we were seeing numbers like 75% of employed executives had turned down offers and so had 40% of the unemployed ones. There is a message in numbers like that and it isn't good for organizations that somehow haven't gotten around to reading the tea leaves surrounding retention of talent. This is one battle they can ill afford to lose.

Should be interesting to hear what others attending the Human Captital Institute's conference in Chicago next week have to say. We've been asked to head up a panel on this issue, which is titled: The Executive Crisis: Grooming the Next Generation of Leaders, and are looking forward to expressing at least one point of view and articulating some specific calls to action. The question before the house, of course, is not will be people listen, but rather will they act.