Sunday, April 24, 2011

Making Your Own Luck

As you might guess having been part of ExecuNet for 23 years during which time there have been at least three recessions and given the depth of the most recent one, we could probably say four and not get too much of an argument, I have talked with thousands of executives about more career related issues than I can remember.

Given the economic turmoil of recent times, it isn't surprising that many of the conversations have revolved around the frustrations associated with making a job change, and especially trying to make that change when the unemployment rate is getting better but is still where none of us likes to see it, and the recovery isn't going fast enough. 

Then, of course, many add to that minor administrative details such as having kids in college, a mortgage to pay, and being on the other side of 45 and getting tired of hearing that they are "over qualified" if and when they hear anything at all which isn't often and which just adds to the frustration.

Since most of our members come to us by referral, it is also not unusual that by the time they "find" ExecuNet they have been travelling around the career changing universe long enough to be almost deaf from all the noise.

With that as the backdrop, when we talk to prospective members one of the first things we often hear is that they say they have tried about every job board known to man, and to use their words "haven't had any luck" to which I will then often ask: "What do you mean by luck?"  The answers vary, but can be pretty well summarized by the fact that they have sent out hundreds if not thousands of resumes and have gotten very few if any phone calls and/or interviews much less even acknowledgment that they responded in the first place.

It is at that point that I often will ask them if they have ever heard this definition of luck?

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunituy.

Most say they have, as have I. I even tried to find out where it came from at one point and at least for now the consensus seems to attribute it to the Roman philosopher Senecaand am happy to give him the credit.  Indeed, if this was one of his "keepers" then we owe him a real debt of thanks because it puts something very important into perspective, at least in terms of the frustration I am talking about here.

So what's the point?  Just this:

When we're trying to help many of the executives we talk with to understand the why of "no luck" it usually comes down to the person admitting that their "preparation" to date was pretty much focused on responding to online postings, even though they were generally aware that most job changes don't come about via job postings in general and is even more the case at senior levels. 

Indeed, in our 19th Executive Job Market  Intelligence Report which was just released, many are surprised to learn that 92% of the openings at $200,000 and up are not posted at all!

All of which is to try and help the person understand that if they really want to have "luck" come their way in this process they have to invest the time, research, and energy to prepare themselves to take advantage an opportunity when it surfaces.  And this is the real reason why when I explain that we are a private career and business network and not a job board per se but rather a community where we invest the time and effort to provide the member not just with the "whats" of  "preparation" but as or more importantly with the ways and means to implement the "hows" things begin to make more sense.   

Clicking and praying is easy, but not particularly productive for most.

Quiet and determined preparation may sound harder, but when you are part of a professional environment with the committment to showing you "how" it beats noise every time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Captain May I?

One of the blogs I follow is called Leadership Freak.  Heck, I think the name is enough to warrent a connection, but as it turns out the content is consistently of interest, well said, and thought provoking.

A recent post by Dan Rockwell (the blogger behind Freak) was on a subject which, judging by how fast the comments were coming through the ether was of far more than just passing interest.  The title was How To Go Over The Boss.  Always a great subject for thrill seekers when the nearest bungy jumping site just isn't close enough.

You can check out the post and the interesting comments yourself by clicking here.

Aside from the topic which stuck me as an automatic contender for "Good Luck With That" award for the week if not the year, was one of the comments that was posted by a reader named Debbie who shared a "learning" that she got from a former boss and which she said was one that she has never forgotten and something that reminds her of this boss every time she thinks about the relationship between boss and subordinate.

The statement was " “Question me about anything but my integrity”.

I have no idea who this boss was who said this to Debbie or under what circumstances but my guess is that it was when he was trying to deliver a message on how he hoped (and expected) they could work together.

He was doing somethinig enormously critical when it comes to establishing a working relationship and it has to do with openess, collaboration and permission to disagree when searching for solutions. It is also something that I am sure many in leadership positions feel and want their teams to feel, but what makes this so powerful, I thought, was that he didn't just think it, he said it!

The elegant simplicity of being able to capture so much of his value system in just a seven (7) word statement I found remarkable.  The fact that he chose to say it out loud was equally important and powerful because, if he "walked the talk" as they say, it gave life to what for many leaders unfortunately only remains a thought.

Leaders frequently forgot that unless and until they actually demonstrate to their teams that things really are open to debate and disagreement the implicit intimidation factor remains, and to the degree that it does, the loss of creativity (not to mention productivity) is staggering.

I don't know what your experience has been, but for me, every company I have ever worked for wrote and talked a good deal about encouraging people to take risks, to not fear failure, to challenge the norm, and of course, one of our all-time favorites: think outside the box. 

I have no data whatever to support my hypothosis as to why organizations continue to fall short when it comes to the kind of involement they espose but nonetheles, my theory is that this happens because leaders express things like Debbie's boss did, but then fail to reinforce it early and often. 

When someone holds the power of economic life and death over someone else, it is only human nature for risk taking in almost any form but certainly in terms of challenging the boss to be something very few would entertain unless they were self-destructive by nature or just had been off their meds for an extended period of time.

If the actions of leadership is such that the seven words can and are translated into only one by the team, then the future of that team and that organizaiton portends very well indeed.

Oh, and in case you're interested, I think that word is TRUST, and that, I beleive, was the message Debbie's boss was sending.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Where's Our Boy Donny Q. When We Need Him?

I need some help! Probably not the best way to start this post as it begs the question of "so tell me something I don't know."

Anyone who knows me would probably say this isn't a question of Dave needing help, we have known him long enough to know that he is well beyond that at this stage!

As true as I know that is, at least at this point, that’s not the kind of help I had in mind.

My need comes from something that has been bothering me for a long time, indeed it was something I had thought about even well before ExecuNet's founding some 23 years ago, but for now, I'll just stick to recent history.

If you follow ExecuNet at all, then you might be aware that around this time every year for the past 19 we have published the results of a survey we do called The Executive Job Market Intelligence Report (EJMIR). 

This year's report is, as they say, coming off the presses as we speak, and if there is any "perk" that comes with being the founder of something it is that you get a "sneak peek" at stuff before it goes public.

So I had my "sneak peek" and there is some really interesting stuff as there always is, and given that we are coming out of a very tough couple of years, the data for 2011 will be gone over with a fine tooth comb for sure, so stay tuned.

I am under penalty of being cut off from my latte lite for a month if I reveal anything before our members get their copies next week, but when I read the report, I felt I could raise this issue since it is something that has been part of EJMIR every year and has bugged me for so long.

So, here's the deal: One of the questions that the survey has posed every year to both the recruiting as well as the HR communities is for them to rank what they feel are the most sought-after executive characteristics.

Each year three things have always topped the list: industry specific experience; functional expertise, and leadership skills, and while there were a number of other things on the list, these three were always way ahead of everything else.

So, when you have 19 straight years of the same result it is kind of hard to argue with the notion that obviously companies think these are pretty important, and if the employers thought these important, then it’s no surprise that the recruiters followed suit. It all seemed to make reasonable sense.

If I was going to hire someone for sure I would want them to be competent in their functional area, understand the industry segment and to have "leadership skills."

But here's what bothers me and where I need someone, as Rachel Maddow says, to "talk me down."

Functional expertise I get, and leadership skills are a whole other ballgame.

My hang up is on industry specific experience. If it is so damn important then why do we keep trying to back fill openings that become vacant because the last incumbent was carried out on his shield with another person who "must have" industry specific experience?

Point being, if this characteristic was so critical to success, then one would think that we should not experience the turnover that we do.

All of which leads me to the feeling that while the survey data show the three characteristics I have mentioned here as being so closely aligned that there is no statistical difference between them - in other words they are essentially equally important in the eyes of the more than 3,100+ who responded - that the real "make or break" characteristic is leadership skills or as many respondents put it this year "...the ability to build and lead high performance teams."

So my convoluted logic says I really don't think that functional expertise or industry specific experience are the "show stoppers" - sure they play a role, but they don't hold the proverbial candle to leadership skills, and I just don't understand how the three can be seen as equally important.

So, if the real deal is around leadership skills, then through the wonders of modern technology we’ve got it made. All we have to do is ID "leadership skills" and we’re golden on the hiring front, right?

With that in mind and as a public service to my fellow travellers on the leadership quest, you’ll be relieved to know the answer lies somewhere in the 37,500,000 hits I got on Bing when I asked for "leadership skills" or to make it less time intensive since we all have other things to do as well, the same ask on Google narrowed things down to only 17,200,000.

Now that we have that "solved" we can move on to the next problem - once we have found the leaders, how do we keep 'em because as this year's EJMIR will show, if this an issue that you think has gone away, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn that's on sale and that you are going to have a hard time passing up!