Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jobs Coming – Yes or No?

This week’s issue of Newsweek (12/21) has two conflicting articles about jobs. In the first article, Jobs Are On the Way – Why Employment Will Rebound Faster Than You Think, Daniel Gross makes great points about the economy and job picture. We’ve been echoing this point of view most of this year. In the contrasting article, Joblessness Is Here To Stay, Rana Foroohar says there are fundamental reasons why job recovery will lag.

If you are in HR or business leadership – read both. At least be informed on both points of view, and see which one you agree with more. Your comments are invited here. Let’s start a dialog.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

December: Great Month for a New Job

Most job seekers, whether actively looking or passive (just interested in other opportunities, but not looking), put job search activity on hold in December, under the assumption that employers aren’t thinking about hiring.

An article Friday on points out that December can be a great time to explore a new job. Hiring managers are relaxed, and perhaps under less pressure, so they can invest time in candidates. Because fewer people are looking, there is less competition. And, although more hiring actually occurs in January, many employers would prefer to hit the floor running fully staffed in January, by making the hiring commitment earlier.

Over my 25 years in the executive search business, I’ve never had a slow December. Many companies do their next-year staffing plan in September or October. Budgets and head counts are set, and plans put in place. In fact, in some cases, when hiring managers do procrastinate, it can actually be to the advantage of the job-seeker, because you may inquire and find an opening that hasn’t been posted, and no one else knows about.

So if you want a new job, use the next two weeks (up until 12/18 or so) to make contact with hiring managers. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Leadership Development Lacking for Execs

It didn’t surprise me to learn that a recent survey by a top talent research firm revealed that only 37% of survey respondents (352 participants) would rate their executive leadership “excellent”, and less than 20% rated first-line supervisors excellent.

The study found that focused development effort is lacking for top executives. Not enough top people are getting “continuous improvement” of their leadership skills.

The survey report is titled Leadership Development Factbook: 2009: Benchmarks and Analysis of Leadership Development Spending, Staffing and Programs. It was produced by Bersin & Associates, and is available for purchase on their web site. You can download an executive summary at no cost.

I have some additional thoughts on why top leaders may fail to achieve excellent ratings. Several personality and psychological profiles have established that there is a distinct range of task vs. people/relationships. Some people are more task oriented, some more people oriented. Their behavior on this scale is mostly automatic – they manage in keeping with their preferred tilt on this scale.

In my 25 years in executive search and talent management consulting, I’ve seen many companies promote people up into the executive ranks based on production of specific results. This is fundamentally a good thing. People should get promoted based on producing results. However, the managers who are most driven toward results are usually more task focused. Often they lack strong people skills, and this is the area in which they need the most development. Hopefully, corporations, and even the leaders themselves will realize that investing in courses, coaching, etc. to improve leadership skills is very valuable to optimize corporate performance.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ethics and the Recession

This must be my year to be preachy. I’ve already written three blogs about lying!

I was thinking this morning about whether values, morals, ethics have shifted with the economic downturn, and my conclusion is that things are worse. People have understandably gone into survival mode, become more desperate, and are becoming inured to the traits that made us great as a nation. So I googled this topic, and sure enough, there is already a book on it. In The Ethics Recession: Reflections on the Moral Underpinnings of the Current Economic Crisis, author Rushworth Kidder (gotta love the name) makes the point that integrity has declined, but fortunately, there are many things we can do to turn this around. Many other speeches and essays have surfaced this year on the topic of values shifts in this recession, and I see this as a good sign – at least people are thinking about it.

Harvard Professor and former CEO of Medtronic, Bill George, said last week at a symposium on ethics: "Business leaders of today focus on personal gains and instant gratification." Citing a survey, George said that 66% of Americans surveyed believe we have a leadership crisis in the United States.

I believe the media perpetuates this two ways: Firstly, news stations sensationalize things done wrong by business leaders. When is the last time you heard a lead story about a leader standing up for what is right? Secondly, much to the delight of many and the chagrin of others, news outlets have become polarized, just like much of our population. The media have always been accused of bias, but now, they have an agenda, and much of what we see, hear and read is propaganda, not news.

I’m not sure what will turn this around, except individuals and organizations making a conscious choice. Kidder says we need “more ethical organizational cultures.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking."

The holidays are coming. A time of reflection. Anyone who has survived the past two years has a lot to be thankful for, and we can all look forward to better times soon. Let’s handle it responsibly.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More on Lying…

Usually my blogs are meant to inform – today I’m going to vent a bit. I’m one of those people who says when I put my head on my pillow at night, I don’t worry about what I said to who – because I just tell everyone the truth. I’m beginning to feel like I’m in the minority.

In April, I wrote a blog on lies told by job candidates, with advice to employers on how to get at the truth. In the last six months, I have had an astonishing number of candidates lie to me. How do I know? They get caught!

Everyone engages in some “spin” in telling stories. Spin to me is a skillful, selective portrayal of the truth, that positions you well. An example: A job seeker felt that his last boss was a jerk, who provided no real empowerment, and no opportunity for growth. The “spin” on this is: “I realized I needed to be in an environment with a supportive, mentoring boss who would empower me to accomplish great things and advance my career.” The truth, told to the candidate’s advantage.

Telling a recruiter that you have or haven’t done something when the exact opposite is true and in fact verifiable is just stupid and dishonest. Stupid dishonest people will get caught. Say the title of this blog three times fast….

Saturday, October 31, 2009

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

More About Automation and the Human Touch

Yesterday I wrote about the need for the Human Touch in recruiting. Today’s LA Times has an interview with Leonard Kleinrock, one of the fathers of the internet. While Kleinrock is mostly positive about the impact of the medium on society, he does point out a pitfall that aligns with what I was saying yesterday: That today’s kids are un-learning the basic human skill of reading another human being in person. Kleinrock’s quote: "It [internet] gives them a larger reach, [but] they're not getting out in the sun, playing with other kids and looking in their eyes and watching their body language as much as they used to, which I think is a shame and can create a kind of indifference in the way in which you deal with your peers. Excesses include things like notifying your significant other [by computer] that you're no longer significant to them."

As a society, I think it is worth maintaining this skill of being able to size up what another person means, just by looking at them, and listening to how they express themselves. Parents will have to model this at home, and, in the workplace, I think companies will ultimately have to teach this skill to millennials who would rather text than talk!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Human Touch in Recruiting

Lately more and more of our contact with candidates and even with clients (employers) is electronic. “Conversations” occur by e-mail and text, and even through neutral sites like LinkedIn. It should come as no surprise that there are even robot interviewers where you record your questions, and the candidate records his/her answers. One company providing this service advertises that you can turn a stack of resumes into the perfect candidate "while you sleep."

However…. Once the candidates get to the hiring manager, chemistry, personal presentations and all the human factors come into play. So, how can a professional recruiter, whether internal or external, adequately evaluate a candidate without knowing what the candidate is like, how the candidate expresses him/herself, etc.? I would say you can’t. Perhaps my age is showing, but I think that one of the primary skills a recruiter must have is knowing who is or isn’t a fit, and why, based on their personality.

If you’ve read my stuff before, you know that I preach using a Performance Based approach, determining if a candidate can produce critical results. Can you use a recording to determine that? Not sure. I think I hear results in tone, inflection, confidence, etc., as much as I hear from the words.

If you have an opinion on automation in recruiting, please let me know. I think this is evolving, and it will be interesting to see where it all goes.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Evidence of Recovery in Staffing Plans

I’ve been writing in my company newsletter for months that I think the economic recovery will be led by a very dynamic hiring environment. Not necessarily lots of new job creation, but lots of changes and movement at the executive level. (E-mail me for a copy of my latest take on this).

Recently, other news reports and hiring experts have been echoing these thoughts. Here’s some key examples with links:

Wall Street Hiring
Google Hiring
Retailers Hiring
Hiring Guru Lou Adler on expected hiring pace in recovery (due to current dissatisfaction)
TalentRise Survey on employer expectations

The “A” players are now overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated! If all of “us” hiring experts are right, now is the time to make plans to ensure you get the people you need, before other companies grab them first.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


A Question of Value
Fees are about the same for contingency recruiters and retained search consultants. Is it the same service?

A Numbers Game
Contingency recruiters never know if they will make a placement. To ensure an income, they must work many assignments (5 - 10) at once, and work them as briefly as possible. A contingency recruiter makes only enough calls to submit the first 2 or 3 candidates he can find. He then hopes they fit. A retained search consultant knows he will complete each search and receive a fee. He accepts only those searches on which he can perform (2 -3 at once), and then can call all the candidates that might fit (50 -100 typically), and submit the 3 or 4 best people (not first). He will work 3 to 5 times harder for the same fee!

Exclusivity vs. Multiple Recruiters
Many employers find out the hard way that more isn’t better with contingency recruiters. They erroneously believe that giving the job order to several contingency recruiters will produce more candidates, more quickly. Instead, it reduces the quality of those candidates. Make a search non-exclusive, and it dives to lowest priority. The candidates submitted will be the easiest to find, not the best. Retained search is done exclusively - the search consultant you select will fill the position. The best candidates know the difference. They take retained search consultants more seriously. Having an expert who treats you as his number one priority, who is dedicated to in-depth recruitment, produces the high quality candidates you’d like to meet in the same time frame.

Real Search or File Search
Contingency recruiters maintain files of candidates who have contacted them, looking for a change. Not the best, but the most vocal candidates. This is their first, sometimes their only source to present from. Retained search firms have even more contacts, having made more calls on each search. These high-value contacts are used as a springboard, as referral sources to finding new candidates to fit a precise specification. The candidates found and screened on a retained search are happy, productive individuals who are not seeking job change, just the top performers you’d like to meet.

Quality Evaluation
Contingency recruiters don’t ask too many questions. The simpler the spec, the easier it is for them to persuade you to see a candidate who might fit. The shoehorn approach doesn’t work. It is critical to write a performance-based job description defining objectives, critical results, beliefs, values etc. so you can recognize the candidate who can do the job. Thorough evaluation means that only candidates already determined to be a fit are the ones you will meet.

When you decide to invest in executive search, make sure that your investment will pay off: Demand to see only pre-qualified top performers who are precisely what you want, who can produce results, and who can positively impact your bottom line. Retained search is your best value!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Job Offers – The Employer POV

There is an old lawyer’s axiom - Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to. I think this saying also applies to employers extending job offers to management level candidates. I’ve seen too many clients extend offers before they know if the candidate will accept, only to get a turn-down.

Once the offer is extended, the power shifts to the candidate, and often, that is when negotiation begins. The negotiation should be done before the offer is extended. An employer should know whether the offer will be accepted, before they actually give the offer to the candidate. Here is what the employer should know before extending the offer:

  • What other factors will influence acceptance? These could include: benefits, bonus, growth potential, relocation issues, spouse’s job, kids in high school, elderly parents, etc. Dispose of these issues before discussing money, and the money becomes easier to discuss.
  • What are the non-monetary reasons the candidate wants to come to my company, and/or leave his/her current company?
  • What are all the components of the candidate’s current compensation package? Which are important? [Some candidates don’t care about bonuses, and want a higher base; others want the opposite]
  • What amount does the candidate want to work at my company?
  • What is the minimum level at which the candidate will walk away?
  • Would a sign-on bonus (one time payment) substitute for some salary (permanent cost)?

When an employer takes in all the factors and truly understands the candidate’s motivation, then a “test” offer can be given, accompanied by a “trial close.” “If we offered you X, would you accept?” If you get a response “I’d have to think about it”, then you have to discover all the things the candidate would be thinking about, until you get a "yes, I’d accept". Then the next day, you can extend the offer, and know that you’ll get a yes.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Empathy in Business

The word empathy was big in the news last month in connection to Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. Some of the Senators made it sound like a bad word!

The concept of emotional intelligence has been a generally accepted business value for many years, and now a new book is out called Wired to Care. I haven’t read this yet, but I like the author’s main idea, that when people in an organization “develop a shared vibe for what’s going on in the world, they’re able to see new opportunities faster than their competitors.” They have a cool tool called the EMPATH-O-METER, that allows you to suggest and rate the empathy level of an employer.

My clients consistently ask for people who are collaborative, who work well in teams, lead teams, etc., yet most people are “wired” to be individual contributors, and our survival instincts work only partly towards teamwork. Increasing the consciousness about empathy is a good thing, and so is the word itself.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Employee Retention in Recession – Part II

My last post was about the importance of keeping your best people, especially in a recession. Today I’ll focus on what motivates an “A” player. These factors need to be in place in order for you to keep your top people loyal. “A” players are motivated to stay with you when they are:

  • Inspired by your vision and leadership – make sure you articulate this clearly and stay positive in your communication.

  • Impressed by your business plan – You do have one, right? A roadmap to success must be part of your plan.

  • Part of a great team tackling a great challenge – an “A” player wants to be surrounded by other high quality teammates, who are operating at optimum performance.

  • Believing in the company’s potential to succeed – would you bet on your chances? Your “A” players can calculate the odds too.

  • In a stable, secure environment – have you been making people feel safe or not so safe in your comments about today’s situation?

  • Able to make a difference, to count – because you have clearly spelled out their objectives and shown them how the achievement of those aligns with corporate goals.

  • Have the right compensation – this is last on the list, because if the factors above are present, compensation becomes less important. The “right” compensation for a key manager includes incentives for their own performance objectives.
Take care of your people, mostly through excellent communication and the right attitude, and I believe they will stay loyal and take care of you!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Employee Retention in a Recession

Many employers are mistakenly feeling secure about their current workforce, under the possibly erroneous assumption that no one would dare leave now. There is in fact a real danger of losing great people within the next year.

Here’s my rationale. I’m assuming that any employer who has let people go has tried hard to keep the “A” players, and let go of only the poor performers. Now the “A”s are overworked, and possibly under-utilized or under-challenged. If your business is one of the many that have really taken a hit, your “A” players want out, and have probably felt that way for a while. Such people may be waiting out the recession, but many really have wanted to change jobs for over a year. The minute opportunities start to surface, those people could be gone.

And, there is pent up demand both ways: Employers have held off hiring, and there could be a rush for talent once the recovery begins. Companies that have any edge at all over your company will be trying to hire away your people.

It is really important not to be complacent about your key people even in tough times. Next week, I’ll write more about key retention tips.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Economy's Effect on Your Staffing?

Please take my Linked-In poll on how the economy has effected your staffing:

Job Hunting Tip #5: Explaining Job Changes

Many job seekers make the mistake of talking negatively about a previous employer, and it is very important to be positive on this topic. When I interview people, I ask them in several different ways to tell why they’d be interested in making a change: What is the ideal job for you? What’s missing at your current job? What needs to be different?

Most of the answers I get revolve around new challenges, a company that is positioned better for growth, the usual. BUT, almost every week, I get one or two people who absolutely tear down their current employer, telling me all the things wrong with the environment, why their boss isn’t a good leader; on and on. Interestingly, I also get overly negative explanations about previous job changes.

Since many of these people are actually really good candidates, I end up coaching them on how to better describe why you want to make a change. Here are some rules:

Every negative can be turned into a positive. Think yin /yang. What is the flip side, the reframe of the negative aspect of your employment? If you think your company is moving too slowly, you say you want a faster paced environment. If you think your boss is poor at giving direction, you say you want a leader who makes it clear what your objectives are, so you have a define path to achieving the goal.

Two sentences is enough. One to describe the circumstances (“I’ve decided to move on; there was a 50-person RIF,” etc.), and one sentence that is forward-looking (“I would like ------------- in my next position).

Show Class. If the interviewer hears you saying negative things, he or she can assume that someday you’ll be saying similar things about him or her. Show some class, and model the behavior you want them to expect from you in the future.

Talk about the future. It is human nature to dig in dirt, gossip, look for the sensational aspects that are fun to discuss. Don’t give in to the temptation. Don’t let a skilled interviewer trap you into “dishing” about all the reasons you are unhappy, only to surprise you with a rejection. Move the conversation to how your capabilities are going to add value to the new employer.

An “A” Player just doesn’t have anything bad to say about a current or past employer! Why would they?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gr7 Communication

The majority of high level candidates we talk to these days communicate exclusively by cell phone. With all the advancements in modern technology, I am astonished that so many people rely exclusively on cell phones for communication. The connections can be so poor that it seems like we’ve gone back to tin cups and string.

Dan Neil has a great article in the LA Times Business Section today about cultural language innovations, and how even verbal communication is going away, with people texting each other instead of talking. Try Googling texting dictionary and see the amazing number of responses that can educate you on text shorthand.

UCLA Professor Emeritus Albert Mehrabian did a famous study of communication that revealed 55% of human communication is non-verbal (body language, facial expression), 38% is sound – (tone, inflection, pacing, volume, etc.), and only 7% of in-person communication is content. Extending this theory, when we text, we only send 7% of our communicative ability.

With people getting busier and busier, it is harder to meet people in person, and sometimes even to get people on the phone. I’m a little concerned that over the next generation we will lose some of our abilities to communicate effectively.

Dan Neil points out in his article that Gr8 is texting shorthand for Great, and if something is only pretty good, but not great, people will text “Gr7.” I love that! We are creating word formations that are specifically meant not to ever be spoken, but only texted! That’s so Gr1. In case you didn't get that I am joking, I was only able to send you 7% of my communication!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Overqualified Candidates

Is the term “overqualified” code for too old, or too expensive? Should an employer be wary of hiring overqualified people? The answer to both is sometimes.

Overqualified truly means a person who possesses skills way beyond what is required to do the job, AND the job being considered represents a step down for the person.

There are a few valid reasons why an overqualified person could safely be hired and could do a good job. A lifestyle change could be valid – kids at home (or elderly relative) who need attention; spouse moved for a new job with much higher pay; person is recovering from injury or other trauma. Cash infusion could be another valid reason: a recent cash-out at prior company (stock option redemption or exit package) or even an inheritance, could cause a person to think “I could afford to throttle back a notch for a while.”

If a company simply desires a younger worker, and in comparing skills, rules out a baby boomer in favor of a Gen-Y’er when both are equally qualified and would cost the same, that is simple age discrimination, and I think it is wrong. I’ve seen baby boomers do an outstanding job, leveraging their stronger experience, and yet not demand or expect as much as some of today’s younger workers.

When cost is a factor, a company is justified in hiring the least expensive person they feel can do the job, and that does not represent age discrimination, in my opinion.

The one real issue with overqualified candidates is whether they will stay. When a person steps down a level, and takes less pay, there is a real risk they will be vulnerable to recruiters, or will even seek another opportunity, seeing your position as only a stop-gap, or a way station on the path to something better. We ask candidates directly, “Why wouldn’t you make a move next year if a higher paying more responsible position became available?” If a candidate doesn’t have a really solid answer to this question – they are overqualified, and then I wouldn’t recommend the hire.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hiring Better Than Yourself

Many hiring experts advocate hiring people with greater capability than yourself, as a way of growing your department, company, even yourself. Yet, in 25 years of headhunting, I’ve seen many high level executives be intimidated by the real go-getters. The one word feedback I sometimes get after submitting an “A+” player is “arrogant.” Yet, I have often perceived the candidate as “very confident” a trait you’d expect in a top performer, but not arrogant. Google turns up over 7 million hits to the string “hiring AND ‘better than yourself’”, and one of those is a three-year old piece by Guy Kawasaki. I agree with just about everything Guy says in this piece on recruiting from January, 2006.

To hire below yourself, and/or not hire complementary skill sets to your own – filling in around your shortcomings – immediately positions you to NOT be an “A” player yourself. Leaders know that having the best around them will almost always pay off, and they are willing to take a leap to get the “A+” person. I think this is a critical ingredient to being a good leader.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What I Learned Growing Up in a Bronx Housing Project

One of the great ironies of the last few weeks is that while my Harvard-educated wife (BA and JD) had classmate acquaintances on the short list for the Supreme Court nominees, the ultimate nominee, Yale-educated Sonia Sotomayor was someone with whom I actually had a special connection: she and I both grew up in the same Bronxdale Housing Project at the same time.

At that time, in the 50’s, many of us saw the move to the new “Projects” as a step up. My family came from a tiny 2 room basement flat, and I saw our 6th floor Watson Ave. apartment as heaven! We got to play on new monkey bars and swings on the concrete play area – the grass was chained off - but it was better than playing in the street. Sonia has spoken to the media on how her upbringing informed her adulthood and her court decisions. Here’s a bit of what I learned:

No to Prejudice:
The projects were a melting pot, and at my level (kids), we were indeed all equal. I developed first hand the evidence to reject the shocking and hateful first generation American xenophobia and bigotry that I heard from my parents and their friends. When you are taught “filters”, trying to be completely egalitarian is work, but it is worth it!

No to Elitism: The people I went to school with who dressed better, my cousins whose families owned houses, weren’t better than me. Poor is as poor does (to paraphrase Forrest Gump). We all put our pants on one leg at a time. This has helped me to never be intimidated in business.

Work Pays: People who worked hard moved up. I got my first job at age 11, working in a butcher shop (probably illegal), and the day I turned 12 I signed up to deliver the NY Post, a much classier and cleaner job! I always had money in my pocket that I earned, and the resulting work ethic has served me well.

Direct Communication: In my neighborhood, no one tiptoed around the outside edges; we didn’t invest too much time in “being polite.” We told it like it was; recognizing that there were consequences (but also much value) from being candid. I call the result of this learning “Bullseye Communication.”

Attitude is Everything: I’ve quoted Victor Frankl before, who famously said, “Everything can be taken away from a man except the last of human freedoms, the freedom to chose one’s own attitude.” Thinking As If you will succeed goes a long way to ensuring success. Just from looking around and seeing what worked and what didn’t work, I knew I’d go to college and be a professional, even before I got to the 6th grade.

I’m proud to have grown up in Bronxdale, and in other poor neighborhoods in the Bronx, and to have learned from the experiences. I do think those experiences are valuable in a Supreme Court justice too! Growing up poor, living in a diverse community and having first hand knowledge of the struggles and triumphs of those striving to emerge from poverty is indeed valuable, in any profession or way of life. For me, one significant result is that I can appreciate the little changes that happen for people, in their career especially, that can have a profound impact. Often I have the chance to help those changes along, and I value those contributions all the more.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Needs and Wants

A key hiring goal for most companies is to feel safe and secure that they’ve made a good choice – they’ve selected someone who will fit in, will perform well, and have a positive impact. In order to satisfy the need to feel “safe” about a hire, some employers load up a laundry list of skills and experiences and label them “must have” or “required”. In some cases, these are legitimate, such as an in-the-trenches, hands-on technical hire. But, in many cases, the line is blurred between “needs” and “wants”. These even goes to things like location. We had a client who indicated that the candidate “must” live in a certain city. Yet the new hire would be traveling 80% between 4 cities in the region. We advocated flexibility in location, which more than doubled the pool of talent that could be considered, since many did not want to move to the primary location.

We encourage employers to sharpen the line, to distinguish clearly between required skills and attributes, and those that are desirable or a plus. Then, the key way to feel safe in hiring is to establish clear, precise, specific performance objectives, and screen the candidate to their ability to produce the critical results.

Be careful not to “need” so much that really capable people are ruled out. Establish a better way to feel safe about the hire.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Executive Compensation and Performance Goals

As part of an LA Times business section focused on executive compensation, business columnist David Lazarus wrote on Sunday about CEO bonuses.

Just as we’ve been advocating for 15 years, Lazarus believes that bonuses should be “…based only on the attainment of clear performance goals, such as increases in a company's net income or market share.” He also feels, as do we, that bonuses and incentives (such as stock options) should be available to all employees doing a good job, not just the CEO.

This topic seems to get media attention mostly when lots of money is at stake, like when CEOs receive 8 figure bonuses despite declining performance at their company. It is critically important every day, at every company. Do more good stuff, get paid more! Great idea! I’d like to see the issue of incentives tied to performance be front and center when economic and human capital experts discuss how to get the economy back on track!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Radical Talent Management

There has been very little written on a topic I’d like to call Radical Talent Management. Hiring and talent management continue to evolve at a much slower pace than other technologies that are critical to business success.

The word “radical” is derived from the Latin “radicalis” which means root, basis, or source. I would bet that most of us think of the word radical not by its first or second dictionary definition (of or relating to a root; growing from the base), but by its third or fourth definition: Marked by a considerable change from the usual or traditional; tending to make extreme changes.

In First Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman told us that one of the things great managers do differently is to define TALENT as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied.” The authors go on to differentiate talent from skills or knowledge, and advocate hiring based on talent, and in the book’s appendix, list the 12 Core Questions that correlate with success. My favorite is the first: “I know what is expected of me at work.”

I want to advocate combining these four ideas into a new way of managing talent:
  • Radical talent management must start at the root, which is how we define the job.

  • It must also be about considerable change from the usual and traditional.

  • Employers must define what is expected of each current employee and new hire, in SMART terms (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound), by producing a business plan with performance objectives.

  • Deployment of current people, hiring of new people, performance evaluation – all aspects of talent management – must be done by evaluating TALENT in the context of Performance Objectives. Only then can talent be productively applied!

Sounds simple? It is hard to believe how FEW companies follow the above four principles. So few, I’m inclined to call the idea Radical Talent Management. Let’s see if it catches on.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting the Real Truth From Candidates

Recently I read a list of the Top Five Lies Told by Job Candidates, as reported by HireRight, a candidate screening organization. The article focuses on some obvious, but superficial issues: Exaggerating dates of employment, falsifying education, inflating salary or title, hiding a criminal record, and hiding a drug habit. Most of these can be easily caught by a decent background check. You can ask for a W-2 to verify compensation. Simple diligence can help you avoid hiring a person who is lying about these issues.

Much more significant are the really important lies told by candidates that can be harder to detect, and that can cause you real harm, because you will hire the candidate despite the lies. Candidates will misrepresent their capabilities more often than the five items above. Some of the misrepresentation isn’t even their fault!! Employers ask leading questions, like, "You've set up a sales department before, right?" When the candidate readily agrees, without being asked for evidence, a check mark goes in the "plus" column. Behavioral based interviewing, where candidates are asked to illustrate a trait (like leadership, teamwork), with specific examples from their work history, can also cloud the issue. Most people can dredge up a good story to illustrate a trait, but did they actually accomplish anything with this trait?

If a candidate does not have strong capability to do the critical tasks of the job, the result can be very costly: lost opportunities, critical mistakes, lost morale, cost of replacing the hire, etc. Employers have to ask the right questions to help the candidate tell the truth. When employers take the time to develop SMART performance objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound), they can turn those objectives into interview questions that make it far more likely a candidate will have to tell the truth.

An example: Let's say that a Sales Executive has to grow sales by setting up multi-state distribution and establishing a key strategic alliance. The employer can ask: "One of our most important goals is to establish multi-state distribution as a key method of growing sales. What is there specifically in your background that would enable you to achieve this?" You keep drilling until the details emerge: Who were the distributors? Did the program succeed? How much in sales? All of these details could be verified, so the candidate must tell the truth. This is a great way to evaluate candidates, but also a great recruitment tool: Mediocre candidates hate these questions, and excellent candidates love them, because they have the answers, and are delighted to talk about how they will respond to the employers real, well-defined challenges. The truth emerges, and it is helpful to both the candidate and the prospective employer.

You can easily check on the basic lies, but make sure you have a process to protect yourself from the biggest, most expensive lies - and get an accurate, truthful answer to the most important question: can the candidate really do the job?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Poll on Availability of “A” Players

I posted a one-question poll on LinkedIN, and got 17 responses. The question:

More job seekers are available. How difficult is it to hire "A" players?

The responses:

  • Very hard to find "A" players: 11%

  • Still a bit hard to find "A"s: 35%

  • Much easier to find "A" player: 5%

  • The same - "A"s still rare: 47%

My conclusion (which confirms what I thought was the case up front): The wider availability of candidates due to the economic downturn, layoffs, etc. has NOT produced a better pool of people. The “A” players are still productive, working, and not looking for a job.
To record your vote, click

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Consistency in Talent Management

A consistent approach to Human Capital Management is sometimes lacking in large companies, ironically, due to the uniqueness of each leader in the group. For example, the Talent Acquistion Director might believe in a performance based approach to hiring, but perhaps the recruiters are more comfortable with competency-based interviewing. And to compound the inconsistencies, the compensation manager may believe in a unified team approach, or company performance, as the basis for incentive compensation, which then has no tie to either individual performance or even individual competencies.

Individual philosophies in Talent Acquisition / Human Capital Management can serve well to inform the overall policy. However, it is essential that a consensus approach be utilized that makes it clear to each employee how they will be managed, from the moment of their first interview, to goal setting upon hire, evaluation, compensation, etc.

We advocate the performance-based approach, which can be applied to the full spectrum of the talent process. A job description should contain SMART objectives. These objectives can be the basis for recruitment and evaluation. The objectives also form a business plan for the new hire, can be used for evaluation, and can even be quantified for incentive compensation. Each year, this performance-based formula can be applied to generate new goals, which become a new personal business plan, and form new evaluation criteria that can be the basis for performance reviews, compensation, promotion and growth.

Employees appreciate consistency. When the same management theme is applied to all aspects of their employment experience, they will be more motivated and productive.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Job Hunting Tip #4: Value Creation and Getting Jobs

Grant Cardone’s latest blog is titled: 12 Tips to Getting a Job in Any Market. I agree with him, especially about showing how you can create value. It is critically important, especially for the executive job seeker, to NOT interview for a job, but to illustrate how he or she can create value by making money or saving money for the new employer. This applies particularly well to the “hidden job market”: situations where an employer is thinking about a change, but hasn’t listed or posted the job. Guess what? EVERY employer is thinking about making a change; getting rid of a poor performer that holds the company back.

Job hunting is a numbers game – you must contact lots of people to find the true opportunities. By networking with everyone you know to find out who might need your skills, you will connect with those hidden opportunities. Research the company before you call . Be ready to make a case for how and why you can have an impact, and you just might get in the door. Then you don’t have an interview; you have a sales call. You are the product; the employer is the buyer. If you can successfully show the “benefit to the buyer” of the “product’s features” – how you add value – you can create a position for yourself. See my previous blog on being a Pain Killer vs. a Vitamin, and apply these same ideas to yourself.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Job Hunting Tips #3 – Reference Letters

Many job seekers wonder about the value of getting letters of reference from current and past employers. I am a strong advocate of accumulating these as your career progresses. You might lose touch with many of your most important contacts, and preserving a record of their impressions about you could be very valuable down the road. Presenting a specific letter that really discusses your skills can speed the hiring process and persuade a prospective employer to move along with your offer.

Each time you leave a company, no matter what the circumstances, ask your boss or someone else in a superior position to yours, to give you a letter. You should also suggest parts of the content of the letter. Submit your request in an e-mail, and state, “Some of the things I’m proud of having accomplished here include:”, then list a few key results in bullets, using only the truth of course! You will find that the person is likely to cut and paste your suggestions, putting their own spin on the wording, and send back exactly what you want. If you ask more than one person at the same company, send them different bullets, so the letters don’t mirror each other.

You can also use this approach in electronic media, such as LinkedIn, where you can solicit and post recommendations about yourself. Keep in mind that peers, friends, etc. are not as valuable as someone you directly worked for. If you put your LinkedIn profile address in your e-mail signature line, you provide access to a place where your recommendations are shown.

When visiting a new employer, offer to show your reference letters, but don’t be pushy about it. Your credibility may decrease if you create too strong a case about the letters you’ve gathered. Taking a balanced approach to getting and using these letters shows an employer that you value your history, and have invested some effort to substantiate your performance.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Top 8 Reasons an “A” Player Will Work for You

Whether you are trying to hire for a new position, replacing a “B” or “C” player on your team, or just want to hang on to the stars you have now, here are the key reasons why top performing people will come to work for you or continue to work for you:

Inspiration: They are inspired by your vision and your leadership.
Impressed by Plans: They see you have a business plan, and they are impressed by it. They are also impressed by how you have translated the company’s plan into an individual plan with SMART objectives, for them.
Challenge: They see the challenges, and want to be part of your team to address the exciting opportunities.
Believe in Potential: They see the desired outcome, and believe the company can succeed.
Big Hit OR Security: If you have an emerging growth or start-up company, they can appreciate the chance for a big hit (equity play), or if you are a well-established company, they appreciate the stability and security you offer.
Ability to Make a Difference: You have spelled out the impact that each individual can have, and each person understands his/her contribution to your results.
Culture Feels Right: They fit in; they understand what the environment is about, and it works for them. This usually means open communication and no politics!
Compensation: This is last on the list, because if all the other factors are in place, it won’t be the primary motivator. Keep yourself market competitive, and provide incentives for good performance, and people will feel they are treated right.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Passion as a Predictor of Success

A business friend asked me today to comment on the idea that passion (for one’s business or vocation) could be the number one predictor of success. I disagreed. I have seen dozens of entrepreneurs present their businesses to investor groups ( I belong to TCA in OC). The investors get excited when the entrepreneurs are enthusiastic and demonstrate passion about their companies, products, potential, etc. There is a hitch though. Many of the most enthusiastic entrepreneurs, the ones that appear most passionate, have a couple of personality issues. In fact, I’d say that I’ve met many who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

There was a book written in the early nineties, (still available through Amazon), called The Productive Narcissist, which describes how these not-so-together people are incredibly charismatic, draw people to them, and often (but not always), succeed wildly, despite the negative traits that impact their relationships with others. See who the author gives as examples! So, my conclusion in this thesis about passion is that you must dig a little deeper to determine who the person really is, before you can judge a superficial pattern of passion as the best predictor of success.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Job Hunting Tips - #1 “What is Your Biggest Weakness?”

Since there are so many people looking right now, I’ve decided to start offering job hunting tips. Today’s blog is the first in what will be a periodic series. Subscribe to the blog to get the rest!

Employers often ask job candidates to cite a weakness, a shortcoming, or an area that needs improvement. Most interview books advise creating an artificial weakness, such as “I’ve been accused of being a workaholic”, or, “I can sometimes be too driven to succeed.” Those aren’t really weaknesses, and giving that kind of pat, prepared answer can seem a bit insincere.

I recommend finding a true weakness or shortcoming from your past, that you have worked to partly or completely overcome. Then describe what you discovered about yourself, what actions you took, and what the outcome has been. Here’s an example:

“I was told in a review that I could be stronger with my team in driving them toward results, so I took a closer look at what was preventing me from doing that, and found that I had some concern about being too much of a taskmaster. I then discovered that helping my people understand how their individual goals tied into the organization both empowered and encouraged them, and made them more productive. It was a paradigm shift for me that helped me to be better at getting results.”

This comes across as self-awareness, self-revelation, sound personal insight, growth, etc., and these will be perceived by the interviewer as strengths, even though you have discussed a genuine weakness.

Job Hunting Tips #2 – The “Informational Interview”

Many job hunting coaches advocate trying to get “Informational Interviews”, where you aren’t specifically aiming at a job, but just gathering information, getting advice, networking, etc. What can you try to accomplish in this meeting to improve the quality of the discussion? Here are some tips:

  1. Treat it as a customer visit - what is the "benefit to the buyer" of having this conversation with you? Maybe they just feel better, at having given back. Maybe you give them specific value too, in the conversation.
  2. Find the pain - what is this person's biggest business issue right now? What keeps him/her up at night? How could you offer a solution?
  3. Be a resource - offer to help them network to find the things and people they need, now and in the future. Then really do it – send them info on things that are relevant to their needs; ask how you can help periodically.
  4. Ask questions, don't "tell" or “sell”: Ask questions, use the two ears, one mouth ratio (2:1), let them talk. Gain insight. Don't sell yourself. The more you hear from them, the more you can find the way your background might fit, the way you could help, then you can close rather than sell: "If I could help you solve that issue, would that be of interest?"
  5. Find the referral. Be prepared to state your benefit to your next employer (not a recitation of your resume), and ask "WHO do you know that could use that skill?"

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Super Bowl Commercials

There were several commercials played during Sunday’s Super Bowl related to the workplace. Monster and CareerBuilder both showed versions of dissatisfied workers, with Monster sitting a support person under a moose’s behind (while his boss is under the head, in a paneled office), and CareerBuilder showing all the reasons, over and over, why someone might want to change jobs. They both offer a solution: Come to our site, and find redemption in the form of a better job.

A more interesting sociological phenomenon is the high popularity of the Doritos’ “Free Doritos” commercial, which initially shows a somewhat crazed office worker irrationally breaking the snack machine for “Free Doritos”, then his forlorn co-worker, who hopelessly hopes for a promotion, throwing the “magic” crystal ball (really a snow globe) into his boss’s unmentionable region, thereby dashing his slim hopes of a promotion forever. At the end, he doesn't even have any Doritos! The fascinating thing to me is why this commercial with no redemption, with a tragic outcome, is the more popular. First, let’s take the escapism route – people love action movies, even though they probably won’t be involved in a car chase with a machine gun. So, seeing someone “act out” is cathartic. But this Doritos commercial as the most popular?! I guess people are so frustrated with their jobs, so cynical about the future, that seeing these angry guys detaching from reality and demonstrating anger and violence, can actually make some of us feel better.

Several ad critics have mentioned that there wasn’t much real humor this year overall in the commercials, but I laughed at many of them. Maybe our mood and what feels funny shifts with what’s going on in the world. I hope next year’s commercials reflect a more light-hearted state in the world of work!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Valuation of Human Capital

How much are your people really worth? In dollars?! On your books?
Employers often say “our people are our biggest asset,” but do corporate actions reflect this philosophy? Headcount is usually cut before hard assets like buildings and equipment. Often, employers lay off their highest paid, longest tenure (and perhaps most valuable) workers first. The P&L improves short term, but should that really equate to higher value on the balance sheet?

Much has been written about “valuation of human capital,” but it is challenging to specifically assess a dollar value of people for accounting purposes. Accenture, Ernst & Young, Taleo, and others have proposed various ways to value people, talent and contributions. However, the average CEO, when asked “What are your people really worth” would probably say “I have no idea.”

Every key employee has the potential to either save money or make money for his/her company. Such savings and profits represent tangible value – at the multiple that applies to that company. So, someone who saves $200,000 for a small, privately held company might be worth 3x, or $600,000 as an asset to that company. At a larger, publicly traded firm, that same $200,000 might be worth 12x, or $2.4 mil. in asset value. Other factors that could translate into tangible value are customer relationships, creation or advancement of the company’s “brand”, productivity improvement of the executive’s team, etc. Many of these things are part of what is often referred to as “good will”, the intangible assets of a company, which can run as high as 35% for established firms. I submit we as leaders have to know the value of all our so-called intangible assets. Here’s a challenge to the financial wizards: Figure out a simple formula that even a small business could use. Shouldn’t our equity go up when we have selected the most valuable people to hire and retain?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hiring: Can You Do Better Than Flipping a Coin?

Most top executives admit that they have repeatedly hired people who are “B” or “C” players, who have had an adverse impact on the company, who needed to be replaced. Most will admit they have someone on their staff right now that fits this description. Many studies have shown that without a formalized, professional approach to evaluating candidates, employers can expect 50-60% hiring accuracy, no better than flipping a coin.

I would define hiring accuracy as bringing a person on board who performs well, has a positive impact on the organization, fits with the team, and stays with the company a reasonable period of time. Based on what I hear from clients, hiring accuracy has not improved in the last 25 years. Almost every other aspect of corporate management has improved. Why not hiring? CEOs are smart people. They know how to use business case analysis, and seek expertise when they implement a new IT system. They will invest millions in top grade automated machinery, and establish finely-honed metrics for key performance indicators. BUT, they won’t invest in acquiring precision hiring methodology, choosing instead to judge job candidates by first impression and personality, and using an intuitive “gut feeling” process to make hiring decisions. This practice arguably suspends logic and sound business processes!

When an employer utilizes a performance-based approach, which defines specific, measurable objectives, and combines that with looking at tangible evidence of accomplishment and initiative, suspending intuitive judgment in favor of objective analysis, accuracy can improve to 80-90%. What CEO would not change a process immediately in order to get that kind of improvement? As our economy recovers and the labor supply shrinks, which will be steadily happening over the next 20 years as boomers retire, hiring is one process that needs to be better than a coin flip.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pain Killer Vs. Vitamin

I learned the expression “Is it a pain killer or a vitamin?” in the angel / VC investment world. This question is asked of start-ups by investors, to determine if the product being developed and funded is essential for the intended purpose (a pain killer; a must-have), or just nice to have (a vitamin). When a CEO applies this to his/her current products or services, the answer is very revealing. In an economic downturn, very few customers buy vitamins! But, they still need pain relievers. In the aerospace sector, pain can often be size and weight – the need to fit critical technology in a smaller, lighter box. Companies will pay millions for such pain relievers. In the communications world, pain can be the need to transmit more with less – less power, using less bandwidth, over fewer, smaller lines.

In my world, HR and executive search, a person can be a pain. I don’t mean an annoyance, like a “pain in the ----“, I mean a real pain – an obstacle to progress, unable to generate needed results, an impediment to team functioning. A new, more effective person who gets past these obstacles is the "pain reliever." I tell my clients they should only hire me if I can relieve pain, and have a critical, measurable impact on their bottom line. For 2009, we all need to think this way!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

This Just In... Small Business is Optimistic

Microsoft and Elance have just released a survey of 600 small business owners, conducted in December, that reveals that 60% are optimistic about 2009. They believe that 2009 will be as good or better than 2008. 37% are worried about 2009, but believe they'll weather the storm.

I've said in previous blog entries that attitude is a huge factor in success, so I was really pleased to see the positive approach. I too feel the economy will bounce back decisively this year, and we are preparing for that.

Friday, January 9, 2009

True or False: Available Job Candidates Are Better Than Ever?

Many of my business friends and clients have remarked to me that the recession must mean that there are great people available for jobs. That is a tricky issue.

If someone is currently unemployed and actively looking, the question is why? Did the prior employer shut down a facility? Sometimes; and in that case, there could be very good quality people impacted. However, the more usual reason that people are available and looking during a recession is that they are the “B” and “C” players that companies realized they needed to let go first. Who lets their BEST people go when times are tough? Smart companies keep their best people, and make them work even harder, which means they don’t have the time or inclination to look at job ads.

In boom times, you might get 40-50 responses to an employment ad, and perhaps 5-10% (2-5 people) would be worth considering. In a recession, you might get 400-500 responses, and maybe there are 10-20 worth considering (drops to 5% with so many people applying). Will you be able to weed through 450 so-so people to find the good ones? Most “B” and “C” players still manage to put together a decent resume. So, I contend it is actually harder to find good people in this kind of a job market, and the best ones are even less accessible, because they are working harder, and wouldn’t dare be looking, for fear of risking what they already have.

My answer is False – not better – you need to get the “A” player to get you through the tough year ahead.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Top Ten Business Survival Strategies for 2009

Guerilla Marketing: A 25 year old concept, especially valid today. Use aggressive, unconventional, creative, and low-budget tactics to acquire new customers.

Customer Satisfaction: It is so much easier to retain a current customer and expand business with them than to acquire a new customer. Make sure you are better than any competitor.

Value Selling: How are you better than competitors, and why are you worth more? Answering these questions will maintain your margin.

“AS IF”: A big part of beating the competition is believing that you can, and acting “as if” you will. People believe you, when you act with unquestionable credibility.

Partnering: Who else can bring you customers and/or promote your product or service? Develop strategic alliances to boost possibilities.

Prepare for the Unexpected: Could a major client pull its business? Conversely, what if the recovery happens quickly? Prepare plan “A”, plan “B”, and plan “C”.

Cash Management: Hold on to cash. Prioritize payments based on who can “kill” you – IRS, EDD, landlord, mortgage holder, raw materials suppliers (that you need for your product) etc. Other vendors have to learn to wait.

Solidify your Banking Relationship: Too many companies are being surprised by their banks pulling lines of credit, refusing to renew, etc. Make sure you know where you stand with your bank. Shop for a new one before you need to.

Controls: Cut waste and inefficiency. Apply lean techniques to every aspect of your business, with the possible exception of marketing and advertising.

Work Harder and Smarter: Your time and value as a leader are critical. Make every minute count!
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