Sunday, January 28, 2007

Quality, Not Quantity

Caught an article in the HR Executive magazine the other day by Tom Starner. It was a piece that took a look at the changes that technology companies in the recruiting space were making in order to try and help employers overcome the nightmare of the tidal wave of resumes that arrive when a job gets posted.

We have all heard about the law of diminishing returns, and for a long time now, the complaint that one hears from all sides, both candidate and client is largely the same. Too much volume to deal with in anything that even approaches an effective and efficient fashion. Time was when an employer put an ad in the Wall Street Journal on a Tuesday and would have to take extra vitamins to get ready to deal the the mail on Thursday. Today, that same job posted on a commercial job board would easily generate several times the number of responses, and that's without counting what would come in from the aggregator sites. Talk about an Excedrin headache.

For a long time I have thought that the strength of the Internet is also is weakness. The strength, of course, is the ease with which is makes communication and the sharing of information, but if you listen to recruiters (or candidates for that matter) to coin a phrase, "speed kills."

Candidates feel that if they don't respond to information within a nano second they don't have a prayer. The recruiter's feel that when one is staring at hundreds and hundreds of responses within a matter of hours if not minutes, it's enough to make your whole body go numb.

Some feel that the advent of "social networks" will fix all that since the "referral networks" logic says, will produce a much higher percentage of "qualified" candidates. I am a long time believer in the quality of employee referrals, so at least on the surface the logic feels okay to me. At the same time, however, I wonder if there isn't a law of diminishing returns that might come into play with this as well. Time will tell.

Over the years, we get asked all the time how we manage the quality vs. quantity issue. Our answer has always been the same irrespective if we are talking to our executive members or our recruiter members - education.

What we mean is that we spend a great deal of time getting both sides to respect each other. We expect recruiters to post "real" jobs, well written so that those seeing the postings can make an intelligent judgment in terms of their suitability for the opening. On the executive side, we spend an equal amount of time if not more so, telling people how important it is to only raise their hands for openings for which they are truly qualified.

When we talk to our members, be they on the executive side or the recruiter side we usually try to boil things down to "so long as you are doing your best to exercise your experienced business judgment, the quality should be there." Seems so ridiculously simple, but most things that drive real quality are.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Price of Leadership

By now, and given the speed of "life" and the Internet it could be that lots of others have seen this by now, but when it came to me it gave me an uncomfortable pause.

The letter of resignation below from Shutterfly's Bd. Chairman was posted on the blog written by Jupiter Media's CEO Alan Meckler.

Dear Jeff,

Please forward this to the other board members, as I do not have their addresses with me.

After considerable thought over the holidays, I've decided effective today, January 1, 2007, to resign from the Board of Directors of Shutterfly. My reasons are twofold: 1) as a technologist, I feel there is little that I can offer to guide what has become a manufacturing company, and 2) because of the constraints imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley on my having any significant role on the board.

As I understand it, Sarbox dictates that I not Chair any committee due to the size of my holdings, not be on the compensation committee because of the loan I once made to the company, not be on the governance committee, and it even dictates that some other board member must carry out the perfunctory duties of the Chairman. What's left is liability and constraints on stock transactions, neither of which excite me.
It seems pretty clear to me that lawmakers have gone too far in considering a large shareholder to be inappropriate in the roles, but it is equally clear that I have no ability to change this in the near term. My only solution is to become an outsider. I wish to be treated as such effective immediately.

I want to congratulate you and the team for what you have accomplished. You are doing a great job in a very competitive market, and I have no doubt that Shutterfly will continue to do well under your leadership. I will continue to recommend your service to all.

Jim Clark
Chairman of the Board
For many of us Sarbanes Oxley is a name we've heard but unless we are at a certain level in the organization about all we know is that most of those who are involved with it do not exactly look upon it as a "perk" of being a senior corporate officer.

Since ExecuNet is privately held, I am happy to say we are still looking upon SarBox as something we hope and pray will never befall us.

So why did reading Mr. Clark's letter give me such pause? Because it sounded to me like the words from a very decent man who had reached the point where he felt he had to give up. That the law written to manage the few had made Board participation so painful, unrewarding, and frustrating that it just wasn't worth it any more. Life is too short.

It is no secret that we constantly hear from almost any segment you can name the cry for leadership, and how it is in such short supply. Our surveys talk about it, the talking heads on TV talk about it, OpEd pieces from coast to coast talk about it.

Sure we need laws, even I know that, but when I read stuff like this it really does make me sad to think that we continue to invest such time, energy and our tax dollars into trying to legislate ethics.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Oxymoron: Work-Life Balance

I don't know about you, but somehow the day on which "24/7" became the buzz word to describe how most of us feel we are "on" just blew by me. Maybe I was too busy to notice?

I have read lots of articles that speak to both the pros and cons of the digital age and cyber communications that drive our existence both on and off the job. Indeed, it seems as if things change so fast that pretty soon through the wonders of modern telecommunications each of us will literally be able to be "on" 24/7. We'll still be able to get some sleep, but while we're sleeping, all the data will be fed to us intravenously at night.

At ExecuNet, we talk to our members about this stuff all the time. Most recently, we did a flash survey and asked members for their feelings about all this, and how they felt it impacted what their employers expected of them given that they can be "connected" home or away.

Based on the results, it certainly would appear that employers are "sold" on the concept. 61% told us that their company expects them to be accessible outside of working hours. 29% said that while being available after hours and on weekends wasn't "mandated" it certainly was "implied." All those who are surprised by that one, raise your hand!

On top of the "standard" 50-60+ hour work weeks, 67% said they have worked remotely and spent an average of 11.4 hours working on business related tasks off campus.

When it came to our love affair with Blackberries and Treos (78% said they have them) only 56% said that they felt these little gadgets actually did something to improve what we laughingly refer to as work-life balance. That same 56%, by the way, said that while they might leave home without their Amex card, heaven forbid that they would head out on vacation without their Blackberry fully charged so they could check email while sitting at the beach bar and practicing their Spanish aka "dos Margaritas."

And even when we're in the office, if it isn't technology driving us crazy, it's the fact that our attention spans are constantly assaulted. At least that's according to a Reuter's article that I ran into on ZDnet.

I really think that we are still working our way though adjusting to the impact of being wired 24/7 and the behavior that seems to go with it versus other surveys I have seen (including a number of our own) in which respondents tell us that work/life balance is very high on their list of things they look for in a job.

It still feels to me like we are a part of a society that puts a major premium on living to work vs. working to live the recent BusinessWeek story on Best Buy notwithstanding.

Anybody else feel that way, or is it just me?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A 21 Adjective Salute

As I saw and took in the images of the past few days on the passing of President Ford, it got me to thinking again about leadership. Our members talk about it all the time as well, and for any of us who have been thrust into such positions or even if we have aspired to such positions, it isn't until you are faced with the challenges of leadership that you really start to develop an appreciation for just how difficult it is.

As I thought about that in terms of the things I have done over the course of my career, and then tried in my mind to extrapolate those experiences to the burdens faced by a president (any president) it is pretty humbling to say the least.

But at all levels of business, we continually hear (and see) the crying need for leadership. (Enron anyone?) So, as I was thinking about this, and watching the pageantry of a presidential passing, where as much of what we see is about respect for the weight of the office as it is about the man I started to think about the images that came to mind as I thought about him? There were, of course, many that crossed my mind as I listened to one of the 21 gun salutes.

It was at that point the thought came to me that maybe I could offer my own salute in the form of 21 attributes I thought he demonstrated. If some of them make sense, then maybe as business leaders we could transfer them to our own situation. Said differently, if he could do it, we should be able to as well.

Here's my list:

1. aspiring: but not to the point of pandering.
2. astonishing: in terms of the issues he had to deal with when he came to office. Some compare them to what faced Truman.
3. befitting: of the office.
4. capable: for sure.
5. comfortable: was how he made people feel.
6. courageous: to have pardoned Nixon, agree or disagree, it took guts to make the decision, and that was just for openers.
7. credible: pretty important quality in a leader.
8. decisive: another key ingredient in a leader.
9. earthy: as in "down to."
10. erect: he carried himself well.
11. feigned: something he didn’t do, he was a believer.
12. gutsy: see #6.
13. honorable: not a word we hear much of these days.
14. industrious: from what is said about him, to say that he was would be an understatement.
15. likeable: both sides of the aisle said so.
16. political: sure, but willing to compromise and listen.
17. sincere: felt that way to me.
18. tough: would sure want him on my team.
19. thoughtful: rarely sounded like he was shooting from the hip.
20. warm: he had that kind of a smile that put you at ease.
21. whimsical: nice sense of humor.

Thank you for your service Mr. President.