Friday, September 29, 2006

The Myth of the Puritan Work Ethic

Over the years, I have talked to lots of executives who, like myself, back in the early 90's were around when IBM announced to the world that they too were going to have RIF's. That event came as a bit of an epiphany to many executives who finally realized they had to face the reality of the fact that the Puritan work ethic notion with which most of us had grown up was really a myth. We wanted it to be true, but in our hearts we knew it was wishful thinking.

Once that reality had set in, management gurus of almost every stripe wondered out loud and in print how the loyalty which had been the currency of the implicit contract between employer and employee for so many generations, could, if ever, be replaced in the psyche of the executive workforce.

Sometimes, I suppose, when we read Fortune's list of the 100 best companies to work for, etc. we think there actually are organizations who understand that the biggest competitive advantage any company has really resides in the hearts and minds of its employees. One would hope this is the case.

Then again, we are reminded when we read articles such as the recent AP story that Radio Shack, which had previously announced they were going to cut some 400 jobs had implemented the reduction and in an "interesting" utilization of modern technology, informed the 400 employees via an email that apparently read: "The workforce reduction notification is currently in progress, unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated."

Even though a company spokesperson told the press that employees had been told that the RIF notices would come via email, the story went on to say that a management professor at the University of North Texas, Derrick D'Souza, commented that handling the communication in this way could be seen, as "dehumanizing to employees." (A great candidate for the understatement of the week?)

Not that I would offer it up as scientific proof, but the last time I checked ExecuNet's membership stats when we asked members employment status, 70% indicated they were currently employed.

Message recieved.

I think all of us at this stage of the game understand the implications of a global economy, etc. We understand that the "contract" never really existed. We can live with that, but when I read articles such as the Radio Shack piece, and I think about the management process and the responsibilities of leadership, it also reminds me yet once again that it is always much more about the "how" than the "what."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Happiness Is Different Things To Different People

It's always fun to see surveys that are taken by different organizations on the same subject. In this case, my colleague Robyn Greenspan, the Senior Editor of our bi-weekly newsletter the CareerSmart Advisor, made me aware of one conducted by the Computing Technology Industry Association and reported in an article on Some interesting stuff. Always is when they are asking people how they feel about the jobs they're in versus the ones they think they want.

In this case, 60% of the 1,000 IT types who responded indicated they were looking for new jobs, and if you believe the numbers, 80% of those who said they were looking, considered their searches "very active."

I guess with the economy still chugging along at a decent pace, it shouldn't be too surprising that folks are looking. Indeed, our own survey, which includes a much broader spectrum of functions, including IT, indicated that 53% were dissatisfied with their current gigs, and 72% were ready to put their money where their mouth was - i.e. planned to bail within 6 months.

What has interested me in such surveys over time is what appears might be a shift from money always being the prime motivator on both ends of the "why" people want to make a change. Time was when people left it was because they wanted to make more money, and when they took another job is was money that topped the list.

Not that the world has turned completely idealistic. Money still "talks" as they say, and in the CTIA survey it was the top reason (73% said money was the driver motivating them to look) but there was a substantial percentage (58%) who cited "looking for a new challenge" as the prime factor. Considering this survey was focused on the IT world, I guess the results might not be too surprising in the sense that the conventional wisdom has always indicated that in the IT world, it has always been about "challenge" and money.

In our own survey,The Executive Job Market Intelligence Report, however, and as I said, it covered a much broader spectrum of executives, the numbers came out quite differently. Specifically, the reasons given for expecting to make a change within the next 6 months were:

Personal Reasons: 30% (limited opportunities; lack of challenge/personal growth)
External Factors: 26% (company/industry prospects not favorable; job security)
Atmosphere: 22% (differences with culture; boss not a good match)
Lifestyle: 11% (work/life balance; volume of business travel; commute)
Compensation: 11%

It was the first time that I had ever seen money that far downt the list.

Maybe Maslow was right, once you get to the point where you feel you can put food on the table other factors start to become strong enough to really start to influence behavior.

Things like 911 do too.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Where Has All The Wisdom Gone?

Where have all the Flowers Gone was a 60's song written by Pete Seeger. It's a song that would still be recognizable to many of us today, especially the song's message that was repeated in each and every stanza:"When will they ever learn?" "When will they ever learn?"

If you follow the human capital space at all, you are keenly aware that that one of the key issues being discussed in the press, in professional journals, websites of every stripe and blogs across the electronic universe has to do with the brain drain forecast as the boomers leave the workforce and those coming in behind them, rather than having the benefit of their advice and counsel will be faced with a learning curve driven by trial and error. Not a great picture when played against global competition.

Many organizations, including ours, have asked corporate America if (a) they are aware that this is turning into serious issue, and (b) if so, what are they doing about it. In our
Executive Market Intelligence Report
this year, 67.7% of the recruiters told us they felt there was a shortage of executive talent, and 76.6% of the corporate recruiters who responded indicated that their companies were concerned about retention, and all agreed the proverbial "war for talent" was heating up.

In addition to our own data collection on this topic, we also had the opportunity to work with Ernst & Young on a survey they were doing in this area as well. Whether one is part of the boomer generation or part of the manpower planning world, the challenge of filling the coming void with talent and keeping that talent is an attention getter.

For those who might have an interest, on the 20th at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, the National Institute of Business Management is hosting an audio conference with Bill Arnone of Ernst & Young's human capital practice and our President, Mark Anderson who will be addressing this topic in a program entitled Aging in Corporate America: How to Retain Wisdom & Recruit Leaders

NIBM is noted for the quality of their programs, and we are pleased to be able to contribute to this one.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Life Altering Events

It happens at all different ages, and if you live long enough, it probably happens more than once. (e.g. the days that JFK, RFK or Martin Luther King were assassinated.) Five years ago it was 9/11. Events like these change all of us, and each of us takes different paths in how we process the pain, hurt, and anger.

There were many very moving reminders over the past week or so, both in print and on television. I would like to draw your attention to one more, particularly if you were not directly affected by 9/11.

Steve Levy and Maureen Sharib co-host a blog called The Recruiting Edge There is much I could say about Steve's post on remembering 9/11, but after reading it, anything that I could say seems totally unnecessary. It speaks for itself.

Monday, September 11, 2006

"...With a Little Help From My Friends"

I have always felt that one of the best, if not THE best, sources of advice and counsel when it comes to career management is to talk to your peers. Indeed, trying to foster that sort of discusssion was a key factor when we started ExecuNet "back in the day" as they say. Given that we started in 1988, most of that peer counseling and experience sharing came from my logging long but very gratifying hours on the phone. It wasn't long before I was ready to buy stock in Hello Direct or Plantronics.

While I still spend my days strapped into a headset, the avenues now available for people to help eachother have, through the wonders of modern telecommunications, multiplied big time. In our case, in addition to the 40-50 face to face meetings we have in cities across the county on a monthly basis, we have members sharing all sorts of "learnings" both online and off.

Whenever I explore the myrid of topics being discussed, the thing I get the most satisfaction from is the degree to which members "get it" in terms of sharing and trying to help each other. Sure, each of us have our own agendas, interests, and goals. Everyone "wants" something. But if you don't have others who are willing to try and help you get to wherever it is you want to go, you may get there eventually, but for sure it will take you much, much longer.

As an example in our ExecuNet Forum, there has been an on-going discussion amongst several of our members in the sales function. The topic they have been kicking around is the challenge of changing industries, and as an aside, something that is on more peeople's minds than you might think. In our Executive Job Market Intelligence Report this year over 70% said they were considering this as a potential next step in their career.

Here's a sample of the kind of sharing that people are doing that came from one of the forum participants who goes by the handle JimOSales:

A few comments on the recent posts on this topic. One relates to the questions Steve in Jersey listed. I think they are all excellent things to explore. Ask what they are looking for and why, and what has worked for them in the past. If you find that industry experience has been no guarantee of success in the past, you might be able to get them to see beyond that factor.

I also agree with the post from 491318 suggesting that reaching this type of career crossroad is a great time to "re-think your life and do something you would really love doing." For me it was becoming a coach and helping people to become more successful--something I truly love. It is much easier to sell something you love than something that is just a means to the end of putting food on the table. I confess I had a lean year and a half while making the transition, yet I never looked back and I am better for having taken a road less traveled. Many of you have extensive sales experience and have probably trained other sales professionals. Perhaps a career in sales coaching is another avenue to consider. There are organizations like Resource Associates Corporation and Sandler Institute that are always looking for new people to do this kind of work.

Jim OSales continued:I met an interesting speaker and author recently (Kenneth Gronbach) and just finished reading his book, "Common Census: The Counter-Intuitive Guide to Generational Marketing." Some of you might find it of interest on a couple levels. First, it might give you some insight into industries that are likely to be up, as well as ones that are likely to be down, over the next 10-20 years. It might also be encouraging in that generational shifts have us heading into a period where we are likely to face labor shortages as Baby Boomers start to retire and a significantly smaller Generation X moves along in their careers. There is good news and bad news in these generational shifts. The key is to use the knowledge of where things are heading to your best advantage.

One final comment re: trying to convince someone that being an outsider is an advantage. We have a saying in our sales development process: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Your job is to make the horse thirsty." We ultimately can't convince anyone of anything. What we can do is ask them the kinds of questions that might help them convince themselves. It's hard for me to believe that every hiring manager out there has always had success with new hires from within the industry. I'm sure many hire the "experience ones" simply because that's the way it has always been done and it seems logical. But if you can probe and get them to acknowledge that the "experienced ones" don't always work out, perhaps you can shift the conversation to those qualities that do seem to have a direct correlation with success in the job.

Best to all in your transitions!
To coin a phrase, "what goes around comes around."