Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Perks Matter

I have no clue how many surveys have been run in the just the past 5-10 years on the subject of what happens as the employment market turns from one favoring the buyers vs. one where the sellers have the leverage.

While we are not there yet, "barring injury" as they say, overall we seem slowly but surely (thank goodness) to be headed in that direction. I know, I know, that could change by dinner time, but I still prefer to think of it in positive terms.

As this happens, organizations might want to dust off some of those surveys and remind themselves that after bucks and benefits, what matters, especially to the GenXers (and indeed) lots of Boomers as well.

In the stats that have come across my desk in recent years, one "perk" that keeps coming up again and again and is usually at or near the top of the list is work schedule flexibility.  That stat by itself comes as no surprise.  What does make me scratch my head, however, is that many bosses still think that "by the book" structure is still what makes the world go round.

Any company or manager on the planet who has not yet gotten the word that as our economy has continued to gain traction the GenXers (and yes, a good percentage of the Boomers as well) are starting to vote with their feet in a big way must not have their EKG machines turned on.

Here at galactic headquarters we see these things manifesting themselves in any number of ways as the senior-level executives who make up our community report to us on what is often an hourly basis things like: people "landing" at a significantly higher rate; new members who report their status as "currently employed and thinking about making a change" to name a couple. They are, of course, responding to what they see in terms of the increased demand (e.g. our postings from recruiters year over year continue to be up.

So my question is this: If all those who say they are making a change because they want to find a work environment and/or a culture that is more in tune with their "wants," to what degree do they "get it?" Do they "get it" enough to really work to transform the cultures of the organizations to which they are going so that they meet the real needs of those already there and as part of which and as members of the executive team, they will be trying to recruit and retain?

If one examines the behavior of organizations in the past as they have attempted to adapt to the changing values of differing generations, it explains all too clearly why when it is a seller’s market that retention is always a big time issue. And the "war for talent" stats notwithstanding, it ain't just about numbers of warm bodies available.

There is in all this, it seems to me, both lesson and "learning." The companies who have not made addressing retention issues a strategic priority must be made up of people who believe the old saying: "History is something that happens to other people."

It would be my hope that in today's environment where we have the chance to apply both lessons and "learnings" that companies will be more inclined to view it as Alphonse De Lamartine put it: "History teaches everything including the future."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Currency of Networking

When retained executive search finally emerged onto the scene in the U.S. the names that really became the face of the industry were those of Tom Neff at Spencer Stuart and Gerry Roche of Heidrick & Struggles.  They were the mega stars of CEO searches. 

Their names became so well known in part, because of the high profile competition between the two.  They were in two of the top firms and they were the points of the spear when it came to the most senior searches.  It was something that was fun to follow.

I can recall reading many articles that were focused on one or both of these icons, and one in particular that was in Fortune some years ago called Clash of the Corporate Kingmakers stuck with me then and still does because it talked a great deal about how Roche had built his practice.  I thought it was another important example of just how important networking is both personally as well as professionally.

One of the aspects of the story that really struck me was when it was pointed out that even with people who turned him down, Gerry continued to make a real effort to build a relationship, and the key way in which he did so was by using the universal currency of effective networking (information) and giving it freely and with no strings attached.  We talk to ExecuNet members about this all the time.

One could argue, I suppose, given that Roche effectively worked only at the most senior level of the Fortune 500 that every player in that space would want to be his "friend." Could well be true once he became the face of Heidrick, but certainly that was not the case when he was building what his practice became. The relationships he built over the years came back time and again to help him as the years went on until he retired in '09.

Bottom line, when I read the article it reminded me yet once again that effective networking is a process not a pick up, put down activity.  Said differently, and I can't recall where I saw this phrase but I thought it captured the core of what truly effective networking is all about:

There's a difference between doing something part time, full time, and all the time.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Six-Figure Learnings: I'll Take Networking for $1000 Alex

Six-Figure Learnings: I'll Take Networking for $1000 Alex

I'll Take Networking for $1000 Alex

No matter how cynical we can sometimes become the fact is, at least for me (and I certainly have developed my fair share of cynicism over time) when it comes to a new year you can't help but reflect on what has been, what might be to come, and what has changed. 

As we start a new year at ExecuNet, I can assure you, in between reading the crystal ball pieces written by all the bulls or bears telling us what to expect in 2012, I spent a fair amount of time over the last couple of weeks thinking about the career management world as well.

In the years we have been around, it doesn't seem possible that when we began in 1988 if you heard the phrase the Internet you would have thought it was a term from a Stephan King novel or an ad for the latest teen horror movie.  You could almost hear the voice-over booming "Time was running out; they were trapped in the never-ending web of The Internet!"  Talk about change!

Also as one does when thinking about the past, present, future and changes, I also reflected on some of the things that over time really haven't changed and for some crazy reason it brought to mind how many times I have been called by a reporter or writer who was doing a piece on career management and how the main focus of the story so often was and still is on the what a  Jeopardy clue might describe as "makes every job changer want to barf."  Answer: what is networking.

It felt like I have been talking to friends, members, reporters, writers, recruiters, and coaches about this subject for almost as long as I can remember.  Indeed, as this subject was crawling across my mind's radar screen, I was reminded of a conversation I had some years ago with a reporter from the WSJ who somehow tracked me down on my cell phone one Saturday.  It took me a while to get focused on what he was calling about because all I could think about was how the hell he got my cell number. 

Once I started to actually listen to him, he explained he wrote a column called CUBICLE CULTURE.  The column is still going strong today.

In any case, turns out he was writing about networking as a job search or business development technique, and the net of it (no pun intended) was that he wondered if it really was effective in this day and age or just something that technology and hype had created to annoy the heck out of people. We talked for quite a while, and at one point he gave me the following example which he was using in the piece and wanted my thoughts:

"...At another event, she was deep in conversation with an old friend when a fresh-faced young man starting out in financial services interrupted, introduced himself and then, after a long silence, came clean: "Well, can I get your business cards?" he asked them. "My boss told me I could only come to this event if I collect a certain number of business cards."

My answer was "That's not a relationship. It's a scavenger hunt!" and it reminded me yet again of how simplistic a world we live in, and how we are all looking for instant answers and how it is that so many people go through life worried about what's in it for them.  A attitude in life that is off-putting to say the least, and one which in the context of career management is the personification of a formula for guaranteed failure.

Turns out he liked the sound bite analogy of the scavenger hunt, but when the article was published what he didn't include in the column was what I tried to explain after I had made my flippant comment which was that there is "networking" and there is "effective networking" and the reason the word often makes the hair stand up on the back of people's necks (probably more PC than "barf" I guess) is because of the example he gave. It is the stereotypical image that many people have of what networking is when they hear the word.  They think the goal is number of business cards collected as opposed to relationships established.

What I wish he had the time to tell people is that "effective networking", at least based on my personal experience as well as the 24 years of involvement with ExecuNet is really about an attitude of simply being willing to help someone else without worrying about any quid pro quo, and actions whose cumulative effect is to equate your name with trust, or as Karen Armon, who facilitates our networking meetings in the Denver metro area likes to say, "Give first and results will follow."

She couldn't be more right.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Law vs. The Real World

If you are anything like me, while you always knew there were laws against age discrimination on an intellectual level, it wasn't until you got out there in the real world looking to make a change at say 45+ that you came to internalize emotionally age discrimination was very real.

Not a great feeling to understate the case.

Given the make-up of ExecuNet membership (average age 52) we gets lots of feedback and war stories from people facing this issue and they often ask me what my feelings are about the subject. Maybe it's my own age (72) kicking in or just that in combination with the life experiences that have gone along with it, but what I usually tell them is that in my experience, when it comes to discrimination (be it age, sex, religion, or whatever) there seems to be a spectrum - on one end are people whose minds you will never change and on the on the other are those whose minds you don't have to worry about changing. The rest of us tend to fall somewhere in-between which means to one degree or another, while we all have a bias, we are influence able, and that is the group on which I would concentrate.

Said differently, it depends on how you want to spend your time and energy. The fact is that we all need to go to work somewhere and if you elect to go the suit route, aside from the time and expense, the "real world" probability is that no employer is going to be that excited about bringing you on board for fear that they would be next on your list, and in this day and age, finding out that you are involved in a legal battle would not take long.

Not an easy choice for sure, and it doesn't help with the deep anger that one feels, but maybe what reality dictates as the best choice for you and your family. Would that it were a perfect world.

All of this doesn't mean that there is nothing to be done except to sit back and "take it."  There is a great deal that one can do, especially if you are focused on those in the middle of the spectrum who can be influenced, and while there are a number of tools one can use to help someone "to see the light" I think the most powerful of those available are information and networking.

What I mean is this: if you have done your homework on an organization in which you have a real interest, you will be armed with the knowledge of the challenges they face, and therefore are able to share with them the fact that over the course of your career to date that you have dealt with the issues they face, and at 45+, probably more than once. 

When people are engaged in conversations that are (a) focused on their needs and (b) are seeing potential solutions to their problems, they are not thinking about your age, they are thinking about how much easier their life can be.  That is the power of information.

That said, what I hear a lot of from members is that all of this is well and good except they never get the chance to share the information because they never hear back from their responses to job postings, so what good is all this info.

My response usually runs along the lines of if postings is what you are chasing, I am not surprised to hear it.

Whoever and however your electronic outreach is being screened, it is highly unlikely that they will be the least bit interested or be feeling inclined to find out how much value you can bring.  Their role is to screen candidates out just as fast as they can and that usually translates to whatever you have sent is going to see the light of day for something in the neighborhood of twenty (20) seconds - give or take.

In order for you to get the chance to show what you bring based on your research and experience, you need to be face-to-face and that will come about as the result of your networking into the organization, not from answering postings.

New information?  Hardly.  Does it require the investment of your time, energy and passion?  Yup, and the operative word is "passion."  Once you start to care about something, you will find the time and the energy. 

Investing your precious time sending responses into the black hole of cyberspace drains both energy and passion.  Gaining information on organizations that produce products or services that get you juiced will produce more energy and passion than you have felt in a long, long time. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

You Control More Than You Think

About a year or so ago in addition to the normal phone calls and emails that come on a daily basis I wanted to find a way to make sure that I was continually available and accessible to our members but also to do more in terms of sharing with them some of the lessons I had learned from my stumbling around the world of career management for the last 45+ years.

I don't mean to imply that I haven't been accessible; my email and number is all over the site.  What I mean is that I didn't just want to be there to react to questions or whatever, but rather I wanted to do something that was more proactive, especially in a market that has been and remains so difficult to navigate.

One solution I thought would be to create a weekly forum (live) that members could attend by phone and talk about whatever they wanted.  This would not be something where I was trying to guess what might be of interest to callers, but rather an event where the member could feel totally comfortable to discuss whatever was on their mind, and I would see what suggestions/ideas occurred to me that might be of help.  The scary part, among other things, was (a) not knowing if anyone would show up, and  (b) would they find value?

After some weeks of trial and error the answer to (a) seemed to be yes and (b) people felt the calls were indeed helpful on a number of levels. 

In latter case, there were two main things that callers told me they took away: (1) They got an immediate answer to something that they were dealing with at the present time and (2) it was comforting to learn from the issues raised by others that they were not the only ones experiencing this stuff. 
In terms of what I have learned from the calls, the lessons have been many, but the one in particular that stands out is this:

No matter how the market or technology changes over time, the process of career management has remained fundamentally unchanged which is one of the things that remains a source of big time frustration -particularly to action oriented senior level executives.  People want "answers" (are used to getting them) and they want them sooner not later.

So, it is not surprising that one of the recurring themes on these calls is trying to help listeners understand that when it comes to this matter, there are no "plug and play" answers.  At best there are opinions (and lots of 'em) which sometimes serve more to confuse than clarify, but as they say, "it is what it is," and coming to understand this is helpful knowledge all by itself.

It is partially for this reason that I always try to have a guest join me. A different voice, a different set of experiences, and sometimes a different opinion. The feedback from callers has been that they like this a lot largely because it helps to understand an issue from different perspectives and often will generate different approaches.  (An added benefit, of course, is that they are not subjected to me the whole time, but most are polite enough not to mention that.)

Anyway, in a process where much of the frustration is driven by the fact that people feel (and rightfully so) that they have no real control of so much of what is going on, one thing that can be controlled is expectation level, and managing that has a major impact on the emotional ups and downs, and anyone who has ever been through a job transition (myself included) knows full well what I mean.

The trap that is all to easy to fall into in today's technology driven environment is to think that as long as I keep firing off my resume into the ether it is only a matter of time, and maybe there is a statistical case to be made  for that, I don't know.

What I do know is that results oriented executives don't manage that way and they don't solve problems that way.  They set realistic expectations based on thorough research, plan accordingly, bring the product to market, gauge the reactions and adjust.

For sure there are always going to be those aspects over which they have no control, but as professionals, they know it, expect it, and constantly keep focusing on the things they can control.

It reminds me yet again of the axiom we have all heard many times: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. The operative word being preparation.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Maybe We're Not So Crazy

I actually can’t recall when I first met Pete Weddle which is either yet another sign of my senior citizenship status or simply evidence of the fact that I have known and respected him for a long time. I think I’ll opt for the latter.

Over the years, at ExecuNet, we have been fortunate to have had Pete as a speaker at our networking meetings in and around the NY metro area as well as being able to treat our members to his insights via webinars, but what caught my attention recently was a newsletter article that he wrote way back in 2005 which we called: Why You Need to Be a Career ActivistI know, that may seem like ions ago, but sometimes when you stumble across things like this and read them again in the context of today's world, they can often underscore just how "right" the message was.  The fact that the concept became a book just las year would also seem to add to the notion that the message was just a passing thought.  

In reading this piece, it reminded me of not only how well he writes, but also why he deserves the reputation he has as an expert on the world of online recruiting for executives at all levels, be they passive candidates or out there fighting the battle of job search in the 21st century, as well as the solid advice he has for his readers on the smart way to manage their own careers.

In re-reading the article, Pete made some really important points that had big time merit then and still do, especially about how today’s workforce really needs to understand that since the “loyalty” myth has long since evaporated and that in today’s world “you owe your employer performance, not permanence.” From a career development perspective, “your goal is to perfect what you can do at work, and your career is your personal quest to achieve that end.”

Pete goes on to say “Your supercharged performance on-the-job is your best insurance in the demanding, ever changing business landscape of the 21st Century. In good times, it will increase the paycheck and satisfaction you bring home from work. In hard times, it will enable you to land on your feet. It won’t prevent you from being laid off, but it will prevent a lay-off from derailing your career.”

As I read this, I kept saying to myself, why don’t more of us “get it”? It doesn’t seem like it is a concept that is all that hard to understand. When I talked to my partner Mark Anderson about it, he reminded me, as he often does, that maybe more people get it than I might think. He pointed out that 60% of our membership is made up of people who are currently employed whereas when we started way back in 1988 everyone who came to us arrived only after they had lost their jobs. I had to admit he had a pretty good point.

We have been pounding the drum for so long about how critical it is for executives to be proactive about managing their careers and yet it still feels like I constantly hear from members who tell me that it wasn’t until they faced the crisis of losing their job that they decided to “do something about it.” It makes me wonder if anyone is listening.

Reading what Pete had to say, as well as hearing Mark’s stats, made me feel that maybe more people may understand the issue than I realize, and that I just have a tendency to lose perspective when I get tied up in the day-to-day. Knowing me, that is probably true. Sometimes I can’t even remember if I’ve had lunch, but when I see people like Weddle pounding the same drum as we do, it feels good.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

It's Always About Priorities

This is not a paid commercial in any way but I have to say that I am a fan of Bloomberg Businessweek, especially since they changed the format.  Really like the way it is organized, but that is not what this post is about which I would guess comes as a relief to anyone who has read this far.

Along with millions of others, I am also a big fan of Charlie Rose.  One of the best interviewers ever IMHO.  If you don't follow his show on Bloomberg TV, he also has a one page interview in the magazine every week. 

A recent such interview was with Azim Premji, the chairman of info-tech giant Wipro in which Rose sought Premji's opinion on a range of topics one of which was, as you might guess, what thoughts he had about the U.S. and its role as an economic power going forward.

I thought his response was very telling both in terms of his identification of both our strengths as well as our weakness.  Here's what he said:
"The U.S. is a complex country.  It has a high predominance of immigrants who have been eminently successful.  But in the past 20 years, government has increased spending on jails by six times in the U.S. whereas the per capita spending on education has remained the same."
A message in there somewhere?  Ya think!

Anyone who has followed this blog, even sporadically, knows that one of my hot buttons has always been on the subject of education and more specifically, our continued failure as a country to have the political will to make the investments in an educational system whose state of disrepair has to be at least equal to if not worse than our physical infrastructure. 

Said differently, when a well-respected world business leader such as Azim Premji takes note that we think it is more important to increase our spending on jails than on education, sadly it gives us yet another way of underscoring just how little we seem to understand the challenges we face.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's Still Personal

Okay, I admit it, I am a bit of a "machineophile" or maybe in the current era and vernacular a "gadget geek."  I love the apps, the widgets, and the QR stuff.  I have no idea what most of it does, worry to death about which ones come preloaded with a virus and then end up deleting the vast majority about every 6 months to make sure I still have disk space on my PC and cell phone.

Well, yesterday when I needed something to take my mind off of how badly I had done in this week's office football pool I decided it was deletion time again, and it was during that process that I came across a reference to an app that if you believed what they were saying, was supposed to be the job seeker's answer to automated responses and messages that come from many job board postings, which, loosely translated, stop just short of "Dear Occupant."

Apparently, after this certain piece of software is up and running, the applicant can send out an automatic message to any posting on any site it searches for the keywords one sets as the criteria. If true, this would make my list of finalists for the ultimate recruiter's nightmare and the job changer's time-waster of the year award.

I recall when the Internet first showed up on most of our radar screens, many of the industry pundits were forecasting the early demise of the whole executive search industry, and what we could expect before too long was all job openings would be filled as we slept. Okay, a bit of an overstatement to make a point, but that is what it was starting to sound like. Here we are a couple of decades or so later, and for sure the death of the industry was, as Mark Twain said, "greatly exaggerated."

Admittedly, at ExecuNet be it career issues or business issues, we are focused on only one segment of the market (i.e. C-level executives and their direct reports) but by observing and interacting with that segment (as well as the executive search community) on a daily basis, we continue to see more of an emphasis on human judgment and less on robotic matching, and for all its impact on the speed of research and communications, the search community keeps telling us that the time to fill the assignments really hasn't changed all that much, the Internet notwithstanding.

Indeed, in our 19 year old annual survey (Executive Job Market Intelligence Report) we have always asked search consultants about the time it takes to fill positions. With the exception of the height of the '08/'09 recession, when they say it took on average a month longer, the answer has always been between 3 to 4 months.

As I think about this issue, and keep reading about the latest and greatest technological enablers that often literally "pop up" it just keeps reminding me of three things:

1. There is no substitute for quality, and

2. There is no substitute for making qualitative judgments, and

3. As a consumer, no matter what the economic conditions, I am always willing to pay a premium for quality, and so, by the way when it comes to talent, are companies - in any market.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Zig Zag Theory of Organization

To be honest, I am not sure where the zig zag theory of organizations originated, but I do know that I have heard about it most of my professional work life, and I have been in enough settings, both large and small over the past 40+ years to know that there is much truth to the concept.

In case you are not familiar with the concept, it is pretty straight forward.  The theory essentially says that when the pressure from the organization below the "head" becomes so great in its momentum in a given direction that the "head" has no choice but to follow.

If you have been following the events in several of the countries in the Middle East of late, which has been pretty much unavoidable, you have seen this theory in action (both literally and figuratively).

But this happens in business as well and there are probably plenty of us who have seen it happen time and time again, and depending on one one's point of view, in some cases it can be a sad thing to see unfold and in others we just smile and are glad to see someone "get theirs."

The business section of your local paper probably has examples, big and small, almost every day.  Maybe one of the most prominent recently was when Yahoo's board pulled the plug on Carol Bartz.

Ask most anyone who has ever made the move from individual contributor to supervisor, manager, department head, division head, unit head, or any C-level role and most, I think, would tell you that delegation is one of the hardest bridges to cross and without doubt one of the most critical of leadership skills to master if one is to succeed. 

Giving up the control of doing it yourself to depending on others to do it while you are held accountable for the outcome for  most people is scary and uncomfortable.

In politics, "the organization" delivers their message at the ballot box as we all know.  In business, however, it is often much more subtle, but more often than not when those who are led are fed up with those who think managing is more about "telling" than "asking" or who somehow believe that a leader is someone who comes across as a "don't do as I do, do as I say" type what might have started as an enthusiastic "I'm on it" over time morphs into what I have best heard described as malicious obedience. It's a very apt description and a leader's worst nightmare.

Translation: It is people doing exactly what they have been asked to do, nothing more and nothing less.  In other words exercising no judgement that might value add or providing information that would help avoid a problem, etc., and when the inevitable happens and the boss is screaming how could this happen, the answer comes back as "...that's what you told us to do."

So, while it is a long way from being a "new" or "novel" message, those leaders, irrespective of sector (public or private) should keep this theory very much in mind as they interact with their those they lead, be they voters, employees or as we have seen in the Middle East - citizens.

At the end of the day, as they say, you serve at their pleasure.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Negative Feedback Loops

For sure, like the one Fortune ran for their cover story in the May 16th issue way back in 2005 (50 and Fired) are attention grabbers designed to sell the magazine, but I wonder if those who read that piece or others like it these days come away feeling anything like I did.

What a downer! After reading it back then and checking out the look on the faces of some of the folks they featured, one would think that the only option if you were unemployed and over 50 is to adjourn to your garage, shut all the doors, fire up the car, and drift away listening to Stairway to Heaven!

Why bring all this up again now?  Because stuff like this tends to surface again and again depending on what the economy is doing at any given point in time.  The tougher the times the more the media seems to invest their time and resources into trying to make us all feel worse.  No wonder they call it a "negative feedback loop."

This isn't to say that there isn't rampant age discrimination in this country. Of course there is, just like there is rampant discrimination of about any flavor you want. It has all been around for far too long to be sure, but around none the less. The way that article came across one would think that there is simply nothing to be done and you might as well cash in your chips and head for HR department at Wal-Mart or Home Depot unless you are really into cultural stuff and want to be a guide at a local historic site.

Is age an issue? For sure! Is making a change easy? Absolutely not, but it is a long way from having to swallow a gun which is the impression one gets from articles like these.  What a disservice to the tens of thousands of people impacted by the recession, and the further up the organizational hierarchy one goes, the more the age factor comes into play.

As tough s it is, however, making a job change is really a process with which most of us (age notwithstanding) are all too familiar.  It is a sales process and for most people I know, in order to be successful in sales, you need to really believe in your product, understand how its features and benefits will help the buyer and even more importantly, understand the objections the buyer might have and provide the information and answers that help the buyer to see that their objection is really not the problem they might have thought.

This may be an over simplified way of stating it, but when you peel away the anxiety and fear of rejection that is inherent in any sales process, and which is even more pronounced when the product is "you," the fact remains that this is really what it's about.

Maybe I am overly sensitive because I'm 72 and still feel I am still a long way from having to be kick started in the morning. It also might be because the average age of ExecuNet members is 52, so we talk to 50 somethings all the time.

But most of all, I think it's because we hear from and talk to members every day who are telling us about how they moved on to their next gig, and we get pretty excited each and every time.

The most recent came just the other day when I got an email from a member (age: 60) who was writing to tell me that he was about to start his new job as the CFO for a pharma company in the Northeast or the member (age 58) who had accepted the CEO position at a consumer products company in California.

Bottom line, I think and hope those who are working as hard as they know how to get on with their lives and careers are way too busy to take the time to read something as de-motivating as the one that appeared in Fortune back then and continue to show up in other magazines, blogs, and 2 minute "reports" on the tube these days.

When one reflects on the challenges facing the country, especially in terms of the economic competition and the numerical advantages faced by the U.S. versus the more rapidly developing economies, you would think that as a nation we would want to take advantage of every ounce of experience we can lay our hands on.

But then this is the country where our elected officials seem to think they are helping people deal with all this by spending their waking hours doing nothing except wringing their hands and calling each other names.