Friday, November 14, 2008

Feedback? Thanks but No Thanks

If you had to pick one word that strikes fear into the hearts of both the boss and the subordinate or the candidate and recruiter, "feedback" just has to somewhere near the top of the list.

Sure, all the books talk about how great getting feedback is, how important it is for our development, how much candidates want it so that they can learn from it going forward, and how much the recruiter wants to share it in order to try and help those involved in the interview process. Yada, yada, yada.

That, of course, is the ideal world. In the real world if you talk to most people, no matter what side of the feedback desk they are on, giver or receiver, most would tell you that they would rather have a root canal without Novocain.

All that said, the fact remains that no one has yet to come up with a reasonable substitute inside corporations for the performance appraisal process. To be sure, there are scores of different models both alpha and numeric most of which have ranges that go from 1-5, 1-10, and with all sorts of wonderfully descriptive terminology that goes from "walks on water" to "is drowning," to "should be drowned." Okay, usually much more diplomatic than that, but I am sure you get the point.

What got me on this kick recently was a post by Gerry Crispin one of the co-founders of CareerXRoads. The title of Gerry's rant was: Who is responsible for feedback? Certainly not the Lawyers. Gerry, among his many talents, has a gift for expressing things in writing, and it doesn't diminish when he's ticked off as he was here.

Of course Gerry has been around as long or longer than I have, and so he is very much aware of the "feedback" dilemma. We all want it, we all need, and most of us hate it. On the other hand, I think there are a lot of us who are much better at what we do and how we do because somewhere along the way someone had the courage to tell some stuff that we really weren't all that excited to hear.

If we work in organizations of any size, then most of us get some formal feedback because, as I say, no one has come up with a better system to try and distinguish between levels of performance in a formal fashion. We all also know, of course, that the informal systems have been doing stack rankings of their own long before there were more structured ways.

My point in all of this is simply this: Given the degree of difficulty that any organization I have ever been associated with has had in providing feedback when there is a structured system in place, expecting the recruiting world to provide it to people they basically don't know is a dream that is not likely to come true any time soon.

At the very least, it makes the giver of feedback uncomfortable trying to share what at the end of the day is their subjective opinion and at worst, they don't want to do it because they are worried about law suits or God forbid someone going postal.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Generation A

It might seem a bit weird to be writing about hiring talent at a time when the numbers of announced job reductions seem to rise about as fast as the clock that tracks the national debt, but as bad as the employment landscape is likely to be for the next year or two, the fact of the matter is that organizations will still be looking for talent. Indeed in the current environment one could easily make the argument that the need for "A" level talent and leadership is more important than ever.

If you are like me, the alphabet soup of X's, Y's, Millennials, Boomers, etc. about which we read almost daily can get fairly confusing in very short order, and when you couple the definitions of these generational cohorts with what turns one on and the other off, it often feels like you need to do a DNA analysis before you dare start an interview.

As is so often true with subjects that tend to take on a "flavor of the month" feel, it usually takes someone who not only is steeped in the industry but as importantly can translate his knowledge in a way that value adds to the discourse in order to make really telling points. Based on such a description, those who roam around the staffing space would immediately think of Pete Weddle.

A recent article in Pete's newsletter which he called Generation A got me to thinking yet once again about the challenges of hiring at any time irrespective of what the economy was doing. What is a Generation A you ask? Pete describes them as:
Gen As never, ever look for a job. In fact, they can't even conceive of themselves as job seekers. Why? Because every job change they've made in their career was initiated by someone else.
and the point he goes on to make in this piece is this:
So, here's the bottom line. If you want to win the War for Any Talent, tailor your recruiting to the age differences among generations. If you want to win the War for the Best Talent, focus, instead, on the talent differences within generations. Why? Because the best talent-Generation A-was born in 1947, 1976 and in 1990, as well.
As I finished reading his article, it reminded me of something that we at ExecuNet have found to be true during the twenty years that we have been roaming around the staffing world for senior level talent - the search for "A" players is never in a recession.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Mike for President

When I say Mike for president I am not talking about Jordan. Actually I'm just expressing the thought that a lot of sports fans do when they are passing accolades along about one of their idols.

In this case however I am not talking sports, I am talking about America's ability to compete in the world economy - a game I think most of us would agree we cannot afford to lose and yet if you read Michael E. Porter's recent article in the October 30th issue of BusinessWeek it feels like a game which while it may not be out of reach (yet) it is one where we need to put some points on the board in a big way.

Porter is, as most know, one of the leading gurus on competitiveness. In this most recent piece called Why America Needs an Economic Strategy (talk about an understatement!) Porter lays out in words that even I could understand both the need and some proposed solutions.

I should say as an aside that it is really nice to see someone do more than just write about "the problem" (as if we didn't know!) but also take the time to try and show the reader a "way out." This is also one of the reasons that I am such a fan of Tom Friedman who often does the same thing.

Anyway, what caught my eye was not just the subject which I found of immediate interest, but after reading it, I was pleased to see that he too was pounding the drum on one of the subjects about which readers of this blog will recognize as one about which I have pretty strong feelings - read public education. Here's what Porter had to say on the subject:

"A final strategic failure is in many ways the most disconcerting. All Americans know that the public education system is a serious weakness. Fewer may realize that citizens retiring today are better educated than the young people entering the workforce. In the global economy, just being an American is no longer enough to guarantee a good job at a good wage. Without world-class education and skills, Americans must compete with workers in other countries for jobs that could be moved anywhere. Unless we significantly improve the performance of our public schools, there is no scenario in which many Americans will escape continued pressure on their standard of living. And legal and illegal immigration of low-skilled workers cannot help but make the problem worse for less-skilled Americans."
This is not to say that there are not other strategic failure factors that Porter brings to the reader's attention, but for sure this one is super critical.

Presidential elections remind me of the sort of hopeful feeling that many of us feel on New Year's eve. A new beginning and a chance to make move forward with a "clean slate." An over simplification to be sure, but it is still hard to not feel some of that even though we know that the issues that we there on the 31st don't go away on the 1st.

All that said, and since we by this time tomorrow we will have a new President elect, and since I am a bit of an idealist anyway, I hope that the president and members of both houses will have read this article and will take it to heart, especially the closing paragraph which says:

"The new Administration will have an historic opportunity to adopt a strategic approach to the U.S.'s economic future, something that would bring the parties together. America is at its best when it recognizes problems and accepts collective responsibility for dealing with them. All Americans should hope that the next President and Congress rise to the challenge."
Yeah, I know, but somewhere in the past I must have been related to Don Quixote.