Monday, February 27, 2006

An Average Guy or Gal in Poughkeepsie

If Pete Weddle keeps writing about this stuff, I may have to just set up a separate space for commenting on his articles, as he has done it yet again in his Feb. 14 issue of his newsletter where the feature article was cleverly titled "An Average Guy or Gal in Poughkeepsie."

The piece caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First, Pete is a talented author, and secondly his insights and observations on the world of talent acquisition and retention are well worth the listen. I also noted that he had made reference to Tom Friedman's well-deserved best seller The World is Flat, and as soon as I saw that I knew it was something a wanted to read as well.

When I read about and hear about some of the things that continue to take place in companies in our country, I often go to sleep wondering if they are on the same planet as the rest of us. A lot of the time, it feels like a case of collective denial. Indeed, one would think that by now, we would understand that we are indeed competing in a true global market place and therefore be acting with the level of urgency that this reality suggests and which Friedman has so powerfully presented, not just in "Flat" but in his book "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" as well, not to mention the running commentary in his columns from time to time.

What I liked about Pete's take on all this was the pragmatism he suggests for the world in which we live, and how dealing with that reality should play out in someone who is looking to manage his/her own career. His message is very clear. If we, as a nation, want to maintain our leadership, and most especially economically, then we need to "out perform" the competition. How right he is.

It seems to me that one of the greatest strengths we have is our competitive spirit, and when it is your standard of living that you stand to lose, one would think that it shouldn't take too much more than understanding that to get your juices flowing, but when one sees what is going on at companies like GM, who seem to be the current poster child for just starting to "wake up" it gets a little scary.

Pete closed out his piece by saying "...the only way to endure in this new World of work is to win, and the only way to win is to be better than the other guy or gal wherever they may live." Winners, if they really want to be world beaters, usually need "coaches." In business we tend to call them supervisors, department heads, functional heads, division heads, SBU heads, SVPs, EVPs, COOs and CEOs and a lot in between. The common term and label is "leader."

At ExecuNet, we have done a survey of the recruiting community for the past 14 years, and one of the questions we have always asked is what are the key characteristics your clients ask you to find. The top answer, every single year has been "leadership.

All you have to be is be a casual observer of the world market place and read books like Friedman's or read pieces such as Pete has done to know that we'd better get on the stick.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Building Retention The Old Fashioned Way

There was a commercial that ran on TV many years ago for one of the brokerage houses where the tag line went something like "We make money the old fashioned way, one investor at a time."

I was reminded of this line when reading The Herman Group's newsletter called The Herman Trend Alert. It is written by Roger Herman and Joyce Gioia whose consulting firm does a good deal of "futurist" visions about the world of work.

The one that arrived this past week was, like so much of what crosses our collective desks these days, focused on retention. It was titled "Focus on the Individual." It is a good read, and in it, they talk about some of the ways in which they feel that focus on the individual will play out in the years ahead. For example, job descriptions will be replaced by "individualized expectation statements." Performance management will get translated more into "linking individual expectations to individual results." Interesting stuff to think about.

As I was reading all this, it also got me to thinking about the managers I have had myself, as well as those I have observed over the years. It took me about a nano second to say to myself, I have known managers who did indeed manage by the individual not by the numbers. I have also known managers who, it seemed to me, not only didn't know how to spell individual, and if they could recognize an individual, the only one that they could relate to was themselves.

I know that retention is the buzz word of the week. I sometimes wonder when or if retention will turn out to be the most used keyword on Google at some point. I guess that's when you know it has really become a "trend."

In any case, my point is that as I think about retention as an issue, it made be think about the tag line " investor at a time." The successful managers I have known, the ones I looked up to, the ones I wanted to emulate, were those who treated me like an individual. They listened to me, they helped point out to me those areas where I could improve. They made sure I knew when I had done something right and showed understanding when I did something wrong. I knew they cared about me as a person and a professional even though I didn't always agree with the decisions made.

There is another old saying that goes: "People don't leave companies, they leave managers." An over simplification perhaps, but it my experience, more right than wrong. Sometimes managers are a reflection of the culture, or if not a reflection per se, their behavior is a reflection of how the organization rewards behavior.

If organizations are really serious about retention, then they will start rewarding the behaviors that promote it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Next Big Thing in Online Recruiting

Anyone who has been operating in the world of recruiting in general, but certainly in the world of online recruiting per se knows Pete Weddle's name. He has been both a participant as well as an observer of recruiting trends since before the Internet really took off.

He publishes a number of newsletters, books, and articles. I subscribe to both newsletters, and always look forward to what he has to say.

In his Feb. 2 issue of one of the newsletters, he had a piece entitled "The Next Big Thing in Online Recruiting."

Essentially Pete's point of view is that the hoopla over the role of search engines when it comes to recruiting is over-hyped, and there are a number of points that he offers up to argue that the "A" players that everyone says they want to hire are much more likely to use a niche site to look for leads than they are by using a search engine. There are arguments that can be made both ways, and if you follow Joel Cheesman's blog you will already know that he isn't quite so sure.

The answer, of course, is that time will tell us all. Pete's point, if you read his piece is that the "A" level players, especially those who the world labels as a "passive candidate" (whatever that may mean in this day and age) will not be "into" search engines so much as they will be “into” sites that provide them with the content, information and community that engages them on a continuing basis. Given the fact that for the senior executive membership we serve at Execunet this has been a fundamental belief that we have followed for the past 18 years obviously we think Pete is more right than wrong.

Joel, in his comments on Pete's thesis, disagreed to a point. I too have a disagreement, all be it a somewhat minor one. It is simply this. If you read Pete's piece, or many others for that matter, they tend to brush off "active" job seekers from the "A" players or so-called "passive" candidates.

If this were 20 years ago, I would tend to agree that the "A" players were not those who were "active" job seekers. For decades in this country, the person who was "unemployed" (and this was especially true at the executive level) was viewed as an "also ran." It was just one of the many biases that existed then and which along with any number of others still exist, although to a somewhat lesser degree.

With all the down-sizing, M&A goings on, restructurings, right-sizing, or whatever other tags one wishes to put on them, there are literally tens of thousands of executives who are "active" job seekers who, absent the history of the past 20 years or so, would easily be called "A" players or "passive" candidates.

I am not saying that there isn't a difference in the "quality" of candidates for a job. Of course there is. What I am saying, however, is that there is still a tendency to lump "active" job seekers under the heading of "low quality" candidates, and that's just not fair.

If that were the case, among other things, and at least from where we sit, the 3rd party recruiters and companies who have and continue to use ExecuNet as a recruiting resource would have voted with their feet a long time ago.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

You're Overqualified

Todd Raphael is the Editor in Chief of the Electronic Recruiting Exchange. He also finds the time (where I don't know) to also have his own blog on the site called appropriately enough: Todd Raphael's World of Talent. He recently posted some thoughts which he titled You're Overqualified. It brought me some smiles as in it he shared some feedback snippets from a career conference he attended in LA, some of which as an aside had to do with housing prices in Southern California. If you are thinking of moving there any time soon, you'll want to check this out for sure, but that isn't why it caught my eye.

His last entry in the post was to share a some cute comebacks to a couple of issues that come up for most candidates all the time. Salary expectations and being "overqualified."

He apparently was talking with Carleen MacKay a Director at Spherion, and here's what he reported she said:

Spherion director Carleen MacKay was asked by one candidate what to tell employers who early on in the process ask him what his salary expectations are. "Say to the employer, 'How much you got?'" she joked.

Another candidate asked what to do when employers tell him he's overqualified. MacKay suggested he say, "I may be overqualified, but I'm an underperformer."

When I saw the joke with regard to being overqualified, it reminded me of the hundreds of folks I have talked to over the years and the reaction they had when they first woke up to the reality of age discrimination.

My own "awakening" came when I was 48 and was in the process of trying to figure out what my next gig was going to be. It took me more than 6 months before it started to dawn on me that my age was an issue. I was speechless (which for anyone who knows me takes a lot). I had just finished running in the NYC marathon for Pete's sake! What in the hell was going on here?

So now it is some 18 years later, and I while I am no longer speechless, I'm still pretty ticked off, and the passing years have not reduced the number of members that we talk to all the time who suddenly face this issue. They are pretty ticked off too.

So what's to do I am often asked. My answer usually goes something like "Well, I am only one person, but here's what I think."

You ultimately have to make choices about how you want to spend your time and energy. At this stage of my life, as we are all too painfully aware, the world doesn't lack for biases of almost any flavor you want to name.

My own feeling is that while we all have them, if you throw out each end of the spectrum (bleeding heart liberals on the left and big time bigots on the right) most of us are somewhere in between which means that while we may have the bias for whatever reason, we are willing to listen and can be influenced. That's where I would spend my time and energy.

Our stats here at ExecuNet clearly show two things:

1. Age discrimination is alive and well, and

2. While it usually takes longer, (the 35 year old ends up getting about twice as many interviews as the 50 year olds) it is not insurmountable. Once one starts to manage the anger and realize that the skill and experience you have acquired over time is simply not available by googling, taking pill or injection, you have a USP that is really worth a great deal. What you bring to the party is matuity, experience, and judgement that has been gained out there in the market place where they shoot with live ammunition.

Said differently, you aren’t going to get past someone’s age bias if you approach your search with an attitude that telegraphs, “I know I’m older, probably overqualified and would really rather be retiring than reinventing myself.” What does convince (at nearly any age), is projecting energy, commitment and genuine interest in the opportunity at hand. An up-to-date shirt, good grooming and eye glasses from this century don’t hurt either.