Monday, July 31, 2006

There's a Reason They Call it Caveat Emptor

I never took Latin in school, and my kids think I look old enough to have been going to school when that was the 'only' language they spoke in school. That said, you don't have to know Latin to know that the phrase caveat emptor gives one the feeling of and a message of "watch out"!

So, what does that have to do with the space within which
operates? The answer lies in a story that showed up in a recent issue of Information Week that carried the headline "FBI Warns Job Hunters of Online Scams."

In reading through the story, written by K.C. Jones of TechWeb, it struck me that I have heard stories about job seekers be scammed almost ever since I can remember. Even though I am well aware that this stuff still goes on and note that there is a very well worn path on this subject that shows up in our online member forums that our members use to exchange information and ideas, nonetheless, almost a day doesn't pass where I don't get a call from someone who has been ripped off by some firm that is selling smoke and snake oil to someone full of the fear and anxiety caused by the pressure of wondering if they are going to be able to make the mortgage payment next month.

Fortunately, more and more of the members we hear from are contacting us BEFORE they have written a check, and one of the reasons I think is the degree to which people are using the "net" to share experiences and to warn each other. For those who may not be aware, there is also a website called RipOff Report that I have watched grow over the years. The good news is that it is there, the bad news is that it is so packed with visitors that sometimes you have to come back to do a search, although the last time I went to the site they said they were pounding forward on some improvements which would speed up the wait time.

I guess we all have seen the segments on 20/20, Dateline, 60 Minutes, and other magazine shows over the years, and every now and again they do a segment on one of these outfits that continue to pray on the vulnerability that comes when people are under enormous financial and emotional stress.

It can get very, very sad. I recall many years ago a fellow in Florida (and this was long before the Internet) who had been burned (and emotionally scarred) so badly by one of these companies that he literally devoted the rest of his life to trying to discredit the crooks and help people who had been victimized by them.

One wonders in this day and age how it is that really "smart" people can continue to be conned into this stuff, but they are. Maybe ole P.T. was more right than wrong, I don't know, and I am certainly not among those who might be looking for Uncle Sam to get more involved in anything,(heaven forbid!) but when I see this sort of thing going on for as long as it has, it certainly drives home the reason that regulators get involved.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Why Do You Work?

I guess everybody has a couple of "favorite" interview questions. One of mine has always been to ask "why do you work"? If you have never tried it, give it a go, you get some interesting responses aside from the normal "to pay the bills."

Over the years lots of people have asked me that question in one form or another, or if it hadn't been asked, it certainly is something I've thought about a lot. As a recovering HR person, I guess it would come as no surprise when I tell you I learned long ago that money is not what motivates me.

This all came up for me again a few evenings ago when I had the chance to have "reunion" dinner with our Sr. Contributing Editor Joe McCool and Bob Benson, Chairman of Slayton Search Partners. I have known Bob for years as has Joe, but I had not seen Bob since he returned to the U.S. after working in Europe for several years. It was a fun evening to say the least.

Especially when Bob asked me how things were going at ExecuNet. Since he and I are roughly the same age, and I was well aware of the passion he has for his work, I knew he could relate to my reply. What I told him was that aside from the fact that things were going very well in the network, in terms of job satisfaction, this has been the most exciting and rewarding experience of my career.

The reason it is, I told him, is that we felt so blessed to be able to make our living from being able to help as many people as we do. It was a tremendously satisfying feeling. He knew exactly how I felt.

In fact, I went on to tell him that while we had lots and lots of members who when they joined were all looking for senior executive jobs, and many of them got the next gig after responding to one of our postings, that since most people make a change via networking, that I got a much bigger kick out of the emails that we get from members who have made a change and who tell us how helpful we were to them as a resource as they managed a job change.

So all this was still fresh in my mind when I walked in the office today and found the following email from a VP of Marketing member which said in part:

"Your firm and what you teach via ExecuNet has been invaluable to me. My life is much better, different and more rewarding as a result of the opportunities and jobs I've had, the skills I have learned and the people I have met. Thank you! You all do important and life-changing "stuff"!!!

Maybe a lot of people would tell me to "get a life" in terms of what turns you on, but as I told Bob and Joe, I live for this stuff. It's why I work.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Role Models and Working to Live

One of the problems (and that's with a small "p") of being in the same business for a while (in our case nearly 20 years) is that your "friends" send you stuff that they see in which they think you might have an interest because it relates in some way to your personal or professional interests.

I should quickly add here that I really don't mean this to sound like a complaint for in truth people who do things like that are the type one remembers - and for all the right reasons. In addition, and as an organization that bangs the networking drum as hard as we do, I should and do applaud these types of communications. All of which is a long way of saying my friend and colleague Robyn Greenspan, our Senior Editor, sent along a copy of a recent article by Anna Bahney of the NY Times called A Life Between Jobs.
One of the stats in the article stated that between 1978 and 2002, people between the ages of 18-38 had held 10.2 jobs. According to my calculator (I would never trust myself to do it otherwise) that says these folks were changing jobs every 2.3 years give or take a few months. No wonder the service award industry is in a slump!

What struck me about all this was when I went back and checked some of the data in our annual Executive Job Market Intelligence Report
it told me that our ExecuNet members (whose average age is 49) said they changed jobs every 2.7 years and companies every 3.3 years. So much for " 25 and out" which if you are an executive with more than 25+ years experience you already are well aware that the old saw of "25 and out" "went out", as they say, "with high button shoes."

Each generation looks to the next for role models on a lot of levels, and given that I am of the generation, which I am not proud to report, put the organization ahead of not only ourselves but worse, our families, The generation behind us took a gander at that and said "not on my watch." None of my kids took jobs in corporate America. For sure they understand one needs to work in order to live, but having seen the "price" of "living to work" they have elected to work to live.

When I look at the stats above, and while clearly there are many factors that cause the numbers to be what they are, one of them, I think, has something to do with putting job satisfaction and life style issues, if not in front of dollars and cents, at least much higher on the list than they used to be. As I say, seeing what has gone on with our parents is certainly part of what has brought about this change, but only one factor. There's another called 9/11 that probably has something to do with it too.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

New Rules in a Flat World

I guess if you're a business magazine reader you probably saw the cover story in Fortune that was blasting out the news that Jack Welch's rules for running a successful business have gone out, as they used to say, with "high button shoes" and the poor guy has only been out of the corner office for five (5) years. How time flies.

If you didn't see the piece, the list was kind of interesting:

Old Rule: Big dogs own the street. New Rule: Agile is best.
Old Rule: Be #1 or #2 in your market. New Rule: Find a niche.
Old Rule: Shareholders rule. New Rule: The customer is king.
Old Rule: Be lean & mean. New Rule:Look out, not in.
Old Rule: Rank your players. New Rule: Hire passionate people.
Old Rule:
Hire a charismatic CEO. New Rule: Hire a courageous CEO.
Old Rule: Admire my might. New Rule: Admire my soul

I guess it is one of the "benefits" or some might say "curses" of having been running around the planet for a while and the business part of that world for more than forty (40) years that one gets either "wiser" or some might say cynical. I guess it depends on one's point of view.

Anyway, when I first saw the Fortune story, the image that flashed across my mind was the segment on Bill Maher's show on HBO called "new rules." No matter which side of the political spectrum you're on, some the stuff he does is really very funny.

As much as I, along with the rest of the universe, admire the results of what GE accomplished during Jack's tenure, it does not necessarily follow that his leadership "rules" are the be all and end all. Becasue of Jack's personality and style he is often looked at as a benchmark when it comes to leadership. Understandable, but as we all know, there are lots of other companies that have done extremely well with leadership styles that were very different from Jack's. There are also plenty of examples of ones that have failed with leaders whose styles and rules were like Jack's. I guess that is why they call it "situational management."

So I don't know if it's the fact that the "rules" of leadership have really changed so the old ones don't work anymore or if it is simply that we have "new rules" driven by the epiphany of the 90's when U.S. industry discovered the realities of globalization. A discovery which on an individual level translated to the knowledge that the Puritan work ethic in return for job security was a myth from the get go. Whatever it was, things changed, and companies and those who work for them have been trying to adapt and adjust ever since.

In our case, ExecuNet as an organization was born out of the aforementioned 90s epiphany, and the "new" rule that we started to apply was "nobody cares about you more than you" and if you were not going to become proactive in terms of managaing your professional worklife, you were playing career roulette with a fully loaded gun.

It took a while for the notion to catch on, but as we look at our membership now, some 70% is made up of senior level executives and professionals who are currently employed. They are not necessarily looking for their next senior executive jobs, nor are they necessarily interested in anyone's rules other than the one they have now internalized: The company I work for is "Me, Inc." and we outsource our services.

Very 21st century.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Friends vs. Allies

I saw an article the other day written by Ely Portillo in which he was talking about study results published in the June issue of the American Sociological Review indicating that as a society we have fewer and fewer close friends. Now, don't get me wrong it's not like my "first read" on a daily basis is the the American Sociological Review, indeed until I saw it referenced in Portillo's article, I didn't even know there was such an animal; Sports Center is more my speed.

What struck me was that the article said in 1985 the people surveyed said they had only three close friends. That was surprising enough, but the new study indicated that the number was only 1 out of 4.

In the name of full disclosure, essentially "friend" seemed to be defined as someone with whom one felt they could discuss "important matters" whatever that may mean.

Aside from being struck by how low this number was, it made me think about something I had observed on a personal level over the years, and which has simply been underscored even more as we talk with our ExecuNet members on a daily basis.

The "learning" that most members seem to take away from making a job change is that the folks who they expected (i.e. my "A" list) would be the biggest help turned out to be pretty much a bust. The question is why? After all, aren't these guys supposed to be my "closest friends"? Well, not if you buy what Portillo's article reports. Indeed, and while we have not yet done any surveys on "friends", we have done a number of surveys on how people make changes, one of the most recent being this year's Executive Job Market Intelligence Report which underscores the value of trusted introductions.

The answer we keep getting is not "friends" but rather contacts and relationships that came about as the result of "networking." The last time I looked, the number I recall seeing from those members who checked in following their most recent change was some 70% said it came as the result of networking, but not necessarily networking with those who would be thought of as "my closest" friends, but rather people that I met during the course of my search with whom I "hit it off" and we just started to help each other. In fact, even after making the change, most would not describe these individuals as "friends" but rather as "allies" in a common cause.

Works for me.