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Archive for November, 2006

Boom Or Bust, People Availability Is Not The Real Problem

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

The people market is tightening (again), and the pundits are arguing (again) over whether there actually is a shortage of qualified people to fill openings across industries, especially in high tech.

Is there really a shortage? Does it matter?

If there is a perceived shortage (i.e., jobs aren’t being filled), then companies will continue to fret over finding qualified people and managers will continue to worry that a lack of talent will damage their own careers.

During the most recent downturn there was an abundance of talent available as has happened in the past; for example

  • The early nineties, when a typical ad for a software engineer in Silicon Valley drew 100-plus viable responses.
  • Post-October 1987, when a financial services ad would easily draw five hundred qualified responses.
  • The early seventies, when an ad for a microwave designer ran in the Sunday San Jose Mercury and over three hundred qualified engineers started lining up at 6 AM Monday morning to wait for the company’s doors to open.

It is neither the surplus of talent in a down market, nor the dearth of it in a tight market, that creates a staffing problem. Rather it is the attitude of many managers that if the person is not already working there must be something wrong.

In the Eighties the thought was “There must be something wrong; companies only lay off their deadwood.” In the late Nineties, it was, “There must be something wrong or this candidate would already have a job.”

Frequently the source of such attitudes is managers’ lack of confidence in the ability to make good hiring decisions. By hiring currently employed people, managers unconsciously can validate a positive hiring decision (must be good or she wouldn’t be there) or excuse a hiring mistake (assumed he was good because he was at XYZ).

Why the prevalence of this rarely-discussed-almost-never-admitted lack of hiring confidence? Why is staffing, with all its associated pieces, one of the most disliked of all management tasks? Simply stated, most people don’t like doing things when they don’t feel competent, and it is difficult to feel competent doing an intricate task for which you’ve had little or no training.

Staffing involves many tasks

  • developing detailed reqs,
  • screening resumes,
  • doing substantial, time-saving phone interviews,
  • creating and mentoring an interviewing team,
  • interviewing,
  • crafting an offer,
  • closing and landing the candidate,
  • avoiding post-acceptance pitfalls, and
  • a myriad of other details.

Above all is the need to hire correctly; in other words, to hire the right person at the right time for the right reasons. To do it well requires sophisticated, proactive, real-world based training geared specifically to line managers. Instead, much of the available training is geared to having an HR department or using an outside recruiter; is too mechanical; or is comprised of general psychology information.

When there is an abundance of highly qualified candidates it’s a result of the economy, not of a surplus of people. Population demographics, baby bust to retiring Boomers, guarantee hard hiring times for a decade at least. To assure their ability to meet the staffing challenges of the twenty-first century companies and managers need to work together to

  • create an efficient, proactive hiring process;
  • build internal sourcing skills that work in any labor market;
  • raise hiring skills to the level of core competency; and
  • disseminate them throughout the organization.

The winners of the future will be the companies that can fill their needs from the available labor pool, whatever the size, and the managers whose hiring skills allow them to confidently recognize talent, no matter the source.

Real email can be as bad for your company’s helath as spam

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Hooray, I’m vindicated! And in Business Week, no less.

The article, about the importance of reducing email reliance and encouraging face-to-face meetings, is a must read for every manager who is looking to boost productivity, spark innovation, and improve retention of both employees and customers.

Recognition of the problems and misunderstandings email causes is finally gaining a higher profile and being researched and documented by top academics and consultants.

My November 27th post contains a link to an article on the dangers inherent in how one choose to sign-off at the end of an email.

Google “dangers of email” and you’ll get back nearly five million results.

As to my vindication? Here’s an article I wrote for a client’s company newsletter in 2002.

You Can’t Manage By Email

Email. Some people can’t live without it and others refuse to live with it. The debate as to whether it’s a blessing or a curse may rage on, but one thing is for sure: You can not manage by email.

As a manager it is your responsibility to encourage, motivate, challenge, and develop every person on your team. No matter your style, you must be teacher, mentor, coach, cheer leader, and fan for each individual for whom you are responsible! (Hey, you wanted to be a manager, remember?) That said, it should be obvious that these functions aren’t particularly email friendly, any more than they were memo friendly in the dark ages before email. Further, even those that seem as if they should work are dependent on writing skills that are beyond most people’s ability.

Now, don’t get defensive. Look back at email you’ve received from just one person with whom you are close and count how many times

  • you asked for clarification;
  • you found that actions predicated on your interpretation were either awkward, or downright incorrect; or
  • your understanding of what was written left you questioning/confused/annoyed/angered/ hurt/etc., which was not the intended effect.

If that’s the batting average of someone you know well, how much more likely are misunderstandings to happen between two people who not only aren’t peers, but where one possesses substantial leverage over the other? (By definition, managers have leverage, whether or not they use it.)

Email is good for such things as

  • quick alerts (The meeting starts in 10 minutes.);
  • a public thank you (Thanks, Lucy, you gave a terrific presentation today!); and
  • simple, clearly worded instructions (Please collect everybody’s project notes and be prepared to discuss them with me at 10 AM tomorrow in conference room A.)

Although there are rare occasions where it works, in most instances using email to manage (encourage, motivate, challenge, and develop) is similar to driving blindfolded—you’re going to have an accident. Lower productivity and higher turnover are the results of management accidents, and neither is likely to give your career a boost!

To succeed at management you need to recognize some basic facts:

  • You are managing people (AKA, wetware), not androids (software) so you must lead, not program, them.
  • Living entities respond best to personal interaction, so spend the time willingly.
  • Your people do not interfere with doing your job, they are your job, so nurture them and they, in turn, will guarantee your success!

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For those with whom More about the tenacity of cyber stuff resonated, here’s a brief update on what ChoicePoint has done to address the leaky sieve they called their security. Too bad that other’s aren’t following their lead.

Power and Incentives

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

I typically avoid political articles and comments because that’s not what you’re here to read, but I think that you’ll appreciate the applicability to business of the two articles cited below.

“By corrupting the language, the people who wield power are able to fool the others about their activities and evade responsibility and accountability.” Timothy Lynch, Cato Institute

This is from an article on how marketing spin rules communications these days, whether for reasons of obfustication, an effort not to offend, or a bow to political correctness, with the result of clouding the picture, sometimes to the point of opacity.

Whether it’s the government’s recent decision that people have “very low food security,” as opposed to being hungry, or slimehead arriving on the menu as “orange roughy” (at least this one makes sense) clear communications are under fire and in retreat.

I’ve been saying for years, that power stems from the control of either information or money, and I’ve always believed that information actually tops money when it comes to generating and wielding power.

Your MAP determines whether you’ll choose to corrupt communications and hoard information to achieve power or clearly communicate and share all the information that assures that your people can do their job in the most productive, innovative ways possible.

Nobody can force you, nobody can stop you, either way—it’s your choice.

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Over the years I’ve found vested self-interest to be one of the most powerful people motivators available and have written several posts about it.

The idea must have merit when you consider that a Sudanese cellphone billionaire is incentivizing African heads of state to act responsibly.

In this case the incentive is money, but not always.

As a manager, it’s up to you to discover each of your people’s hot buttons, i.e., what really turns them on, and then find a way to satisfy it in return for what you want in performance, innovation, etc. It’s an error to always assume that dollars will do it, or that what turns on one, turns on all.

Hot buttons are as individual as your people and don’t always involve tangibles.

Taking the time to learn what they are allows you to power your team as never before, which, in turn, should give you the ability to satisfy your own.

Email sign-offs

Monday, November 27th, 2006

I don’t know about you, but I’m hyper aware of “traditional” writing gaffes. Little things, such as using capital letters, punctuation and correct spelling. I suppose it dates me, but I have little-to-no tolerance of all lower case letters, obviously poor grammar and misspelled words in business communications of any kind—including email.

It takes little effort to use the shift key and periods; by the time someone is in a position that requires communicating with others she should know that “your important to us” doesn’t cut it and, as to spelling, since all one needs to do is enable spell check, there’s no excuse, whether from poor typing (me) or lack of spelling skills. To me, not doing so shows a certain lack of respect; an attitude that says, “I can’t be bothered;” or sheer laziness.

But have you ever thought that the way you end an email impacts the reader? Do closing salutations impact you? I have to admit that I didn’t give it much thought externally, except occasionally, on very important first contacts; nor did I read much into those I received.

I’ve been know to switch from “Best regards” to “Regards” without a thought—until yesterday. That’s when I read ‘Yours Truly,’ the E-Variations and learned just how much people read into email sign-offs.

NIce that it’s such an easy fix, just added the sign-off salutation to my email sig. I can still change it, but at least something will always be there, independent of my memory, time constraints and laziness.

Take a moment right now and do yours—it’s one of those “better safe than sorry” things.

Food for thought this holiday (AKA Miki’s Rules to Live by 8)

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

Don’t judge who you were and what you did in the past based on who you are and what you know now.

Everybody knows that hindsight’s 20/20, but that doesn’t stop people from laying a coulda//shoulda/woulda trip on themselves.

Each of us is composed of multiple, past “me’s,” each a different, stand-alone version from the current one.

When you look at past actions (Why did I…) you need to first ask yourself if you made the best decision/action possible based on the information you had at the time in conjunction with the person you were at that time.

If, in fact, you did, then the you you-are-now has no right to judge, i.e., beat up on, the previous you for that decision.

This doesn’t mean that you need to condone everything—today’s you may decide that in the future you should do more research or whatever—but it does preclude you from taking your former self to task.

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Thanksgiving is a time when we’re supposed to be thankful, but exactly what you give thanks for is a very private matter—I have one friend who gives thanks for her family, another who gives thanks that her family is far, far away.

So, no matter your age, when giving thanks be sure to include all the past you’s, whether you love ’em or hate ’em, since their very existence guarantees that there will be many more in the future as you grow.

Have a wonderful holiday and I’ll see you all on Monday.

Three odd ends

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

In a post on November 13 Sarah Trammel refers to my post about selective hearing, her own trials with it, and wonders how to combat it. One of her readers adds that it’s not just in the workplace, but at home, also.

I agree; I’ve found that selective hearing, i.e., hearing what one wants to and not hearing the rest, is the prevalent condition of the typical human in some, if not all, of their interactions.

For ways to combat it, try using the approaches in Building awareness to change your MAP and The four-level process of change.

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On November 8 I wrote about how (to me) out of whack compensation seems to be these days. Yesterday I read A New Class War: The Haves vs. the Have Mores and learned that these giant comp packages are upsetting the merely rich. Boo hoo.

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On September 8 I discussed a hiring problem the CEO of a startup was having, the suggestion I made to solve it and said that I would let you know the outcome. I apologize for being slow to do so.

In short, the solution worked. He said that his VPs appreciated his openness in discussing it with them, they agreed with his reasoning for going above the normal compensation level, and the new VP is on staff and doing a fantastic job.

more Building your people

Monday, November 20th, 2006

Continuing from the ideas in the previous post.

In over 25 years as a headhunter I didn’t hear the words “poor self-image” or “low self esteem”, but most people I spoke with craved a manager who would “value” and “appreciate” them; they were tired of being told how great they were, but never being included in a key project or getting a promotion. Only three times do I remember candidates actually saying at the outset of our conversation that they were working for an abusive manager, although many came to that realization as we talked about what they wanted to do and why they wanted to leave.

Valuing and appreciating isn’t about lip service and compliments, it’s about public recognition of things done well, private discussions of things not done well and how to improve them, and encouragement to grow.

It’s helping them to identify their skills and abilities, what they love and what they dislike and how to enhance the former and minimize the latter. It’s helping them understand that although the world around them might contribute, nobody has the right to define them but themselves.

If all this sounds like a lot of work remember that it’s a big part of why you get paid; and that there is nothing that you can do hands-on as a manager that will offset an underperforming group or high turnover.

Building your people

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Did you know that many people define themselves by how others see them? Or that the skills and abilities at which they are best—those that come most easily because there is a natural affinity—are often under-valued, whereas the ones that are marginal, or even poor, are valued more highly because they were extremely hard to acquire?

This is important information for managers looking to increase retention across their entire organization, not just their stars.

Knowing that your feedback—direct, indirect, subtle or not—will have an outsize effect should drive your awareness of what kind you’re really giving. As I keep telling managers, your people, on every level, are smart about feedback, just as kids are. They know when your words are empty; when your actions belie your words; and when you’re just plain lying.

As a manager, you have the opportunity to help all your people soar, or you can cripple them, often for life.

You need to recognize that your every word has an out-size effect; and that the higher your rank the greater the impact.

Look around you, think about running your organization without your stars and what would it cost to replace them; then think about keeping only them and what it would cost to replace everybody else.

Building all your people is in your job description; it’s what managers (should) do. 

Growing or swelling?

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

Ran into a great quote while reading an article about a modest hedge fund manager (sounds like an oxymoron). The comment, about partners who became too impressed with their success, was made by John L. Weinberg, former senior partner at Goldman Sachs.

He said, “Some people grow and other people swell.”

Brilliant comment, and, unfortunately, too applicable to a growing number of bosses.

I don’t need to elaborate the point here, there have been dozens (hundreds?) of articles written about the growing ranks of celebrity CEOs, and other high profile business people, who have bought into their own press releases. Swollen bosses, from CEOs to small business owners to managers at almost every level, happen all the time.

The question I want to pose here is: Are you growing or swelling?

You see, it doesn’t matter if your entire organization believes that you’re swelling, if you

  • see it as growth;
  • believe that your management errors have evaporated in the face of your new-found confidence; or that
  • your promotion makes you intrinsically better than your team

then you will continue on that path, continue swelling, until you finally pop.

Which probably wouldn’t matter that much, except that when bosses pop they take out a lot of innocent people (lots of recent examples, mostly in jail).

So, if you think there is even an infinitesimal chance that you’re swelling, open your mind and actually hear those around you; watch their body language when they’re interacting with you; and really listen to their silences, which are often more eloquent than their words.

If your mind is truly open you’ll know if your concern is real. If it is, do whatever it takes to get back to growing—because going pop is no fun at all.

Change

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Much of what’s written in this blog is about change; not just changing what is done and how it’s done, but changing MAP—the very essence of how and why you think and do.

Over the years I’ve been accused of making change seem simple; of minimizing what’s involved and the effort required.

So let me be very clear that I don’t minimize the difficulties, because I know first-hand how difficult it is to change. But I also know first-hand the rewards, both out-sized and small, that come from change.

Further, I know how much harder it is to do when the focus is on the difficulties instead of the methods, processes and benefits. If you want to increase the stress and obstacles of change exponentially, just keep focusing on how hard it is to change.

There is no quick fix. There is no instant gratification. It takes effort—but it’s worth it.

So take the first small step today, choose something in your MAP that you want to be different, visualize what you want it to be, lay out a plan to achieve it and start.

As Goethe said “What you can do or think you can, begin it—boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

It works. Go for it!

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