Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Executives At Bargain Prices

"It's a buyer's market!"

That's the phrase I hear almost daily, whether it's with regard to buying homes, cars, or hiring employees. The current market has created a plethora of goods, services and man-power. The basic law of supply and demand tells us that with increased supply and a decreased demand, prices will fall. In fact, the whole demand curve has shifted, resulting in the millions of job losses and the downward push on total compensation.

I'm not writing anything you haven't read already. So, why am I writing about it? I read an article on Wall Street Journal today that piqued my interest. It's titled "Only the Employed Need Apply". In it, Dana Mattioli describes how employers select new employees from the pool of the already-employed.

I can understand the thought process behind this. After all, reason dictates that in tough times, companies shed the least productive employees. With our current unemployment rate, that's likely the bottom 5 to 10%. So, if you're looking to hire excellent talent, why not go after the top 90% that are still employed, right? Dana is good to point out that the employed are risk averse these days. So, they're asking for guarantees of continued employment in the forms of severance agreements and higher salaries. So, they're not cheap. In fact, since they're so risk averse, it also takes a long time to convince them to jump ship. That's certainly an added recruitment cost that's tough to swallow in these times.

There's an assumption in this line of thinking: we're facing standard economic times. However, during recessions, many people lose their jobs for reasons other than lack of personal performance. You don't have to think hard or look far for evidence of this. In fact, cost centers are often the first group to be dissolved. For evidence, look at the the numerous HR, Marketing and IT executives in the market. Also, consider how the majority of open positions these days focus on sales, the revenue generation mechanism in a company.

But I detract. Let's get back on point. Even with the higher costs of recruiting an already-employed, I can see why a hiring manager would take such an approach.

I'm curious if there's another perspective that a hiring manager could employ. Let's use a hypothetical situation, one in which I'm a hiring manager. This isn't too far from the truth, given my employment history. If my organization is growing or just in dire need of a particular skill set, I would want a few traits in selecting a new employee, specifically an executive:
  1. Passion for my industry, business and the offered position
  2. Proven and documented track record of success in positions with similar scope within companies or departments of similar size as mine
  3. Ability to ramp up quickly on or, better yet, have subject matter expertise of my industry
  4. Ability to build and cultivate teams

These are in my order of descending priority. I think the majority of candidates on both sides of the aisle will be equally impressive when compared on bullets two to four above. The question of passion seems to be otherwise.

Given the large selection of applicants in today's market, I do have my pick of employees. No doubt, I'll find many who are passionate about my business. Understanding the context of the WSJ article, the employed will be more risk averse in these times. This leads not only to the negotiated severance agreements, but also to risk aversion or avoidance once employed. I'm going to make two assumptions here:

  1. My company's in need of a leader to help it grow or prepare to grow in the onslaught of business I expect to see as the economy turns
  2. Taking calculated, well-thought out risks is what leads to an organization's growth

Let's say I hire one of these currently-employed recruits. Given the new recruit's risk propensity, I've now a big problem on my hands: I have a highly-paid leader who doesn't want to lead, fearing failure and being singled out. Even with a severance agreement, likely this new leader won't want to stand out in any way, good or bad. After all, in times of high unemployment we revert back to the lowest level on the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs and focus on survival.

How about the unemployed candidate? Where's his mindset? I'll likely find a different attitude and breed here. My travels so far have shown that the ranks of the unemployed don't necessarily include just the bottom rung of professionals. There are some non-performers, no doubt, but there are also many risk takers whose risks didn't pan out and their whole departments were dissolved. These are leaders who may have failed in their most recent adventures, but have produced results time and again.

In fact, they are now not only motivated and passionate about their next role and current industry, they've also learned valuable lessons on the previous employer's dime. These lessons of failure far outweigh any "risk averse" nature that the employed will likely possess. They continue to be risk-takers. They take risks daily as they search for their next employer by exposing their work history for the employer's scrutiny. Will they be cautious in their new roles? Most certainly. However, they'll bring the hard-earned lessons from past failures to my organization to reduce the risk of their own and my failure.

The current buyer's market has taught them other great lessons. If they are Marketing Executives, they've had to learn to be salesmen. If they were Sales Executives, they now better understand marketing plans and branding. If they worked on service or product delivery, they've earned their stripes as marketers and salespeople. So, when they decide to take risks in my organization, they know whom it'll affect and how. They'll also better communicate with all other departments in the organization as they now better understand each department's trials and tribulations.

So, If I were an employer in this market, I know I'd get an immense value, not to mention invest less time and money in my search, by reviewing and considering the plethora of unemployed candidates.

.NET / BizTalk Developer Position Opening

I received a call from a Southern California recruiter yesterday looking for a .NET developer. Here's the description and his contact information:

Job Description
Design, develop and test software applications using knowledge in C#, SQL Server 2005, Biztalk 2006 and XML.

Business Requirements documentation will be given to the employee. He/she then chooses between various alternative procedures based on the situation to accomplish the task.

Decisions made in the job affect the completion of the task for the group but ultimately affect the whole division as they affect client satisfaction.

* Understand and help develop product requirements; providing development
estimates as needed.
* Design and develop optimal product functionality to meet requirements
* Develop specification and design documents as needed
* Write technical specifications and test plans as necessary; conducting and
assisting in unit and integration testing.

* Participate on project teams and/or small product focused teams.
* Troubleshoot and maintain software products and applications assigned.
* Performs other duties as assigned.

* 5+ years experience with application development
* Bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field
* Experience with C#, SQL Server 2005, Biztalk 2006 and XML
* In BT 2006, be familiar with ANSI 837, 835 and 924 formats
* Strong SQL writing skills
* Experience with Visual Studio 2008 and Visual SourceSafe
* Strong understanding of industry best practices in software development, including change management, release process and software development methodologies
* Ability to understand complex software architecture and effectively communicate with team members
* Excellent verbal and written communication skills and the ability to work independently setting objectives and performance goals
* Experience as a software system architect building highly scalable, multi-tier, enterprise applications

If interested, please contact Umaru Lamin at the following:

Robert & Sellers Inc.
Technical Recruiter
714-435-0207 phone
ulamin@rsinc.net

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dealing with the Aftermath of Layoffs

If you've been following my blog for the past couple of weeks, you know I've pointed to a few potential employment opportunities based on the latest Chapman Economic Forecast Update and my conversation with a local Orange County, California entrepreneur. In both of those entries I mentioned that anyone with restructuring experience could market that experience to land a new management (or consulting?) position. Restructuring in this market translates to layoffs and the flattening of an organization, while increasing overall productivity.

What may get lost in this process, especially with the focus on cost reduction, is the human element and the long-term consequences of layoffs. This is the sticking point that may delay or stall a company's competitiveness. Ask yourself, how would you insure high productivity after a demoralizing act of layoffs? This is an especially important question to think about if you're eliminating key mid to high-profile roles, or reducing the staff by a large percentage.

My first suggestion is: don't layoff anyone, if you can. The Wall Street Journal had a good article on this yesterday. If you have to do it, there are some steps you want to take during layoffs to reduce the impact on the organization. I won't get into that here either, but I suggest another recent WSJ article on how to layoff.

So, let's say you've laid off whom you had to. Now what? How do you insure people are still excited about coming to work? The Harvard Business Review in its recent June 2009 issue had an excerpt about this. The suggestions there are quite interesting. The authors write about the loss of creativity, employees propensity to think they've been kept out of the company communication, increased levels of stress, burnouts and turnover, especially in the "Stars" rank of employees.

Their suggestions point to two general concepts:
  1. Transparency
    At times when layoffs are necessary, it's important that everyone understands the process by which senior executives arrived at the decision. Any evidence showing how other cost cutting measures didn't suffice would go a long ways in insuring the survivors accept the decision as just or fair. The evidence could be many things, such as an explanation on how a reduction in travel and entertainment expenses, office supplies, off site management meetings were first employed, but that the market conditions still required a trimming of the team to its core.

    Part of this conversation should include a reassurance that there will be a moratorium on layoffs, even if there's a period defined for it. This is critical to insure that the survivors focus their efforts on the business, rather than worry each day about their future survival. Failure to deliver this message, or to deliver it with a lack of sincerity, leads to a nervous workforce with ears to the proverbial ground, waiting to bolt out of the company.

    As a way of reassurance on the company's health, senior executives should continue to regularly update the employees on key metrics, such as revenue-to-date and forecasted sales. A great example of this was on the Fortune List of 100 Best Companies to Work For. The number 17 company is Principal Financial Group. Under the explanation of why this company's great, you learn that the "CEO Larry Zimpleman got a thumbs-up for weekly e-mails he sent during height of the financial upheaval to keep employees up-to-date and reassure them the company was healthy."
  2. Human Element
    The method of delivery is just as important as what's delivered. At times, management forgets there's a human being on the other end of emails, portals and blogs. In times like these when executives need to deliver bad news, it's best to deliver it in small groups, if possible, and in a setting where people can ask and get answers to questions. None of the mediums I mentioned provide this live interaction. Treating your employees and coworkers with dignity and insuring their voice is heard and addressed, sets the right tone with the company for the coming months. With this step, there's no need to say the company has an "open door" policy since you're demonstrating it in your actions.

    What's more, people will feel they were dealt with as a human being, rather than an objectified number or resource. In the long term, once the economy turns and your employees are presented with opportunities to leave the company, they're less likely to do so. Their tendency, just as with you and I, will be to remain with a company that's open with its decision making process, gathers input from its core, and treats its employees with the dignity.

Aside from helping deal with the layoff aftermath, these recommendations are but just two of a dozen that if not followed, leads to being labeled a "Bad Leader" as well. I'll leave that topic for another blog and another day.

Until then, remember to be transparent with your decisions and treat your employees with dignity, as human beings, providing them with every opportunity to voice their concerns and have them addressed.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Does FIFO Apply to Companies in Trouble?

I had lunch with a very successful OC entrepreneur yesterday. He made his fortunes in OC real estate. As is customary these days, we started talking about the economy. He wasn't very happy with what the President is doing to stimulate the economy. He thought longer-term individual and business tax breaks would be substantially more effective in helping the economy restart. But that's a topic for another blog entry.

I pitched an idea to him: Does the concept of first-in, first-out (FIFO) apply to troubled companies in this economy? What I meant was whether the companies that entered the recession and had to contract early on, would then show growth ahead of others? The idea, in general, seems to make sense. After all, these companies likely went through the necessary restructuring, cost-cutting and lay-offs much sooner. As a result, they have already figured how to eek out more productivity and efficiency from their remaining resources. They're lean and ready for growth.

So, as the economy begins to bounce, likely sometime later this year, they'll be in the perfect position to rebound quickly. Compare this with the professional services sector, for example, that's only now beginning to contract. These companies have only begun the process. Their restructuring, like others, won't just involve how many employees they need to retain, but cuts in travel & entertainment, employee events, supplies. They have only begun to address lowered company morale and changing their employee mindset on how to spend where.

My lunch companion thought about this for a few minutes and then told me of some title/escrow and loan processing companies that he personally knows and how their business has increased over the past few months. This, he said, is especially true for loan processing. They're knee-deep in re-financing applications. On the title-escrow side of business, the many foreclosures have begun to generate substantial business for companies like First American. So, given these industries were the first to enter the recession and suffer the consequences, we have a few local examples of FIFO in action.

On the national front, the Wall Street Journal had an article this week on how the finance sector is beginning to hire again. The article claims this is a result of "improving financial markets and increasing investor confidence." So, may be this is not just a local phenomenon.

I see two potential employment opportunities here:
  1. Those looking to work in finance can start applying again
  2. Those with solid restructuring experience can search for companies that've only now begun their contraction

Who said there are no opportunities in this Great Recession?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good News from the Chapman Economic Forecasters

I attended the Chapman Economic Forecast Update yesterday and heard some very interesting news. Overall, the Chapman team predicted an upward trend in the economy starting at third and fourth quarter of 2009! They knew they were the minority in the Economist community, but they were in the minority when they forecast the current "Great Recession" 18 months ago! Overall, they've had very good track record on their forecasts over its 32 year history.

Their forecast included a positive GDP starting the third quarter of this year, and an expectation that GDP will continue to grow, but at a slower pace, starting first quarter of 2010. That's good news, though not great. It'll take time for us to return to the same levels as 2006. This shouldn't be a great surprise as companies and consumers are a bit "gun shy" with their spending and investment.

For Orange County, they predicted payroll jobs will continue to see a NEGATIVE growth until the start of 2010. What they meant was that Orange County, like the rest of California, will continue to loose jobs, but at a slower rate. Job growth won't really come until sometime in 2010. This makes sense. After all, if the economy begins to bounce back starting the third quarter of 2009, companies won't hire until they're certain the change will last a few quarters. This is especially true, given most companies have become risk-averse.

This may sound like bad news. I don't see it that way. What it means for the unemployed is that if they have any experience in increasing productivity and efficacy, they would be highly prized and sought out. After all, likely many company CEOs took the additional precautionary step of reducing their workforce by more than what was immediately necessary in order to reduce fears of layoffs for the remaining staff. As a result, they're short-handed and need to find ways to increase productivity to remain competitive as the economy rebounds.

So, my suggestion to you, if you're in the job market or expect to be soon, make sure you document any initiatives where you increased a company's team productivity, efficiency and efficacy. Be sure to follow the "problem, solution, result" formula to demonstrate how your work in fact helped the company bottom line and increased profitability.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Corner Street Prophet

"Smile and see the world smile with you",
Said through slow drawn whispers,
With a wisdom-tinged raspy voice
Through upturned lips wrinkled
Yet filled with warmth.

The one behind the voice
Seems an unlikely prophet,
Heeding fruits of kind gestures.

A face touched by unkind years,
Filled with such fortune
Of mere rags on his sleeves
Seems filled with a soul rich,
Untouched by the cruel world's tinge.

I wonder how the years
Have taught lessons that could tatter
But left the soul happy in the end.

What stories lie beneath that guise?
What strength rests in this soul
That after this long road entwined
Still bear upon those lips,
Among teeth scattered and worn,
A smile that warms my bones.

The chance to speak never comes
As I pass the corner street prophet
On my way on this crowded road.
Yet lessons many I learned
From an encounter so brief
That forever changed my plans.

For every moment alive
I will thank and smile,
Not at the fortune of goods around,
But of having been taught to smile
Even when beaten by life's turning hand.

For in every touch lies
A decision to make amend
With the fate to us dealt,
To sit and let time pass
Or smile and let the wind of time
Take hold and carry on.

So it shall be for me now,
Even if years long past
Finds me on that street corner,
As that lucky corner prophet
Bestowing words of wisdom
So deftly dealt.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Don't Give Up

My search for a new position has reached its six-week mark. I’ve spent many hours, days, nights at various networking events, behind my computer revising my resume, one-page profile, goals, ambitions. Most of my relationship-building efforts have revolved around connecting in-person, where possible, or otherwise on the phone with friends, coworkers, former employers. This has been quite fruitful in that I’ve learned about the current job market and, more pertinently, how to approach a career search after being laid off.

Never Thought I Could be Affected
Why is this pertinent? Well, though I’ve had to look for work in times past, in almost every case I was employed when a new opportunity presented itself. This is the first time I was laid off. Honestly, I was shocked, given I’ve worked various jobs continuously, part-time and full-time, since I was 12 years old. I started work for my father in his gas station in 1984 pumping gas and cleaning windows, in the days when there were Full Service gas stations. I loved work and hadn’t stopped since. That’s over 25 years of work without ever being fired or laid off! Arguable, my dad wouldn’t have fired me during the first five years of my working life. Taking those years away, I worked for 20 years without a lay off.

Thoughts like this remind me of Peter Gabriel’s song, “Don’t Give Up.” In fact, the lyrics keep playing over and over in my head like a broken record. If you’ve never heard it, you should. It’s very appropriate for our times. You can find it on YouTube here. There are a few lines that express what I’m trying to say here:

Though I saw it all around
Never thought I could be affected
Thought that we’d be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turn

Let’s be clear about one thing: I’m not upset I was laid off. I’ve just not experienced it. In fact, I’m thankful for the opportunity for a number of reasons. First, I can now better relate to the folks that’ve been laid off. I know what it means to wake up every morning knowing that my job is to drum up enough buzz or get the right contacts to find my next opportunity. I understand the anxiety as well as the need and want to remain positive. As one of my great mentors, Olivia Sethney, once told me, it’s all about “taking the high road.” There’s no need to take any of this personally, or to follow that poisonous path known as “blame.” Business circumstances and our economy dictate a change in the way we think and work. The point is we need to be creative and not give up.

Second, given my experience in the past 13 years in software development and, especially, my management experience in the last nine years, I see that I now have an opportunity to review all the work I’ve done, inventory what I liked about each role, company, philosophy and culture, then determine what my dream position and company will be.

In fact, I aim to work where I have fun, when I jump out of bed every morning, knowing full well all the challenges I’ll face putting a team together, creating a culture of positive reinforcement, encouraging calculated risk-taking that rewards lessons learned from failed experiences, and insuring a healthy, wealthy company. I want to lose myself in my work, to lose track of time, food, and all around me. There’s yet a third and subtly different opportunity here…but let’s hold that thought for a moment and consider another benefit.

Whatever May Come, And Whatever May Go, That River’s Flowing
Third, with this change in my life, I realize what really has priority: my family and friends. I love spending time with them and realize how little time I’ve spent nurturing these relationships. I’ve no regrets, mind you, but I now know that work is priority three in my life. Peter was right:

Got to walk out of here
I can’t take anymore
Going to stand on that bridge
Keep my eyes down below
Whatever may come
And whatever may go
That river’s flowing
That river’s flowing

That’s right. No matter what happens, no matter the circumstances, the ups and downs, life keeps going. We can fight it. We just have to learn to swim with it. This reminds me of something else about Olivia Sethney. She had a picture on her desk of a rose. There were some eloquent words along with the picture. Though I don’t remember them, I remember their context: you can look at a rose and see it for its thorns, or its beautiful petals. Life is full of events. They have only the meaning we give them.

So Many Men No-One Needs
The challenge in all of this is that there are so many folks out of work vying for the same thing. Many of them are talented. In Peter’s words:

Moved on to another town
Tried hard to settle down
For every job, so many men
So many men no-one needs

That’s the crackpot part of our current economy. Business doesn’t seem to be what it was nor does it show any signs of returning to how it was. Many of the speakers I’ve heard in the past few weeks and in the articles I’ve read, I keep seeing the same idea: companies appear to permanently flatten their management. The restructuring is not just a shifting of positions, but their elimination. This includes complete business units and functions. I admit I’m not terribly surprised. The downturn from the dot-com bomb forced many companies to restructure and optimize. Lamenting this increase in efficiency and productivity is as helpful as the riots of luddites during the industrial revolution.

Don’t Give Up
So, what can we do? Think creatively, as we’ve done many times past. This is the other opportunity I mentioned earlier. Strength of the market economy (though the means by which we get here is questionable) is that we’re encouraged to trim the proverbial fat, to eliminate the unnecessary burden that had slowed our economic and business creativity, and start something new. I’m amazed by the sheer number of people I know that’ve started new businesses in the past two months. This isn’t just in my circle. Ask people around you. Read the articles in your local paper. They continue to report on the rise of entrepreneurship, the true engine of an economy where the majority of job-creation takes place. This is where creativity rules. With a large part of the workforce pushed to start a business, I’ve no doubt we’ll begin to see new products, services, management techniques that we’ve never seen. No doubt there’ll be challenges along the way for this new breed of entrepreneurs and their ideas, but they will labor on and succeed. They…no, we’ve learned to keep moving forward.

What am I really trying to tell you? Just what Peter Gabriel wrote:

Don’t give up
Cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not the only one
Don’t give up
No reason to be ashamed
Don’t give up
You still have us
Don’t give up now
We’re proud of who you are
Don’t give up
You know it’s never been easy
Don’t give up
Cause I believe there’s the a place
There’s a place where we belong

Yes there is! It’s called The New Economy.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Journey of a Thousand Miles...

It's been a little over a month since I was employed. I didn't immediately start looking for work. In fact, I wanted to do some soul-searching. This is my opportunity to find my dream job and I have the luxury of being able to hold out for it, thanks to my immensely supportive family.

The process of introspection has lead to a career and life focus that I've needed and know is necessary to find my dream position. After reading a couple of personality books (checkout my LinkedIn profile to see the list), I realized a part of my character yearns to help people!

This wasn't a terrible surprise. After all, I take a sense of pride in helping friends and coworkers start off on the path of, if not attain, what they set out to achieve professionally.

With this refined knowledge, I've continued my genuine quest to help my fellow man or woman find work and grow. In fact, my earlier post today was for a project manager position I've come across in my meetings with various folks and former employers. Before the post, late last night I sent out an email to a handful of close friends and previous co-workers as well as post to a closed networking group with 50+ active members. As a result, I received five responses in less than 12 hours. One of the responses came just minutes after my post!

The pleasure I received from speaking with these folks and prepping them for a potential interview, knowing full well that I potentially had a hand in their professional and financial well-being, gave me great joy. I wont' receive any financial or professional benefit from it. In fact, the motivation to make the announcement was to help my friends with the position find the best candidate, while helping someone else land that position. I was delighted just to hear the excitement and thanks.

The point of all of this is quite simple: I hope you'll do the same if not more than what I've done. Make a genuine effort to help someone every day. What I'm asking you to do is something more than forwarding a job listing or information you receive on the phone. Take that extra step. Meet the people you'll refer and the employer, if you can. Do some of the leg work and research the company as well as the people. It takes a couple of hours out of your life, but your efforts will leave a lasting impression, not to mention create good luck for all around.

It's simple, really. You just have to take that first step.

Project Manager Opening

As I've searched for new positions, I've come across some opportune openings. The most recent one is below. The positions is with one of my previous employers. If you're interested, feel free to contact me directly.

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We are a well-established company, in business since 1987, located in Irvine, California developing high-end interactive training and marketing communications for companies like Toyota Motor Sales, Hyundai Motor America and American Airlines. We produce web-based applications, operations management and performance improvement tools, as well as instructor-led training.


We are immediately seeking: IT Project Manager
The ideal individual for this position should have:

  • Excellent writing and communications skills
  • Experience at working with diverse clients
  • At least 5 years experience in an enterprise software development environment
  • Enterprise software application development, eLearning, LMS/CMS web-development experience
  • Knowledge of Microsoft Office including MS Project
  • Provide leadership and direction to multiple teams on projects with a high level of complexity
  • Direct cross-functional project teams during the development and implementation of major initiatives
  • Ensure project completion on time and within budget
  • Develop and manage both long and short-term goals for staff
  • Develop processes and procedures to implement functional strategies
  • Create and enforce policies and standards
  • Evaluate and mitigate project risks
  • Manage project issues and project documentation
  • Manage resources to ensure financial objectives are met within your own area
  • Resolve complex problems that have implications beyond your own area
  • Strong problem solving and creative thinking skills
  • Able to multi-task and manage multiple project/task assignments simultaneously
  • Knowledge of SDLC principles
  • Experienced in managing web developers as well as outside resources
  • Superlative organization skills
  • Experience in organizing, prioritizing and implementing project tasks

Work is on-site at our Irvine location. Compensation commensurate with experience.

This is a full-time contract position with a duration of 4 - 6 months with the high potential for becoming an employee.

We pride ourselves on a challenging, but family-like environment in a state-of-the-art facility. We care about our clients and the invaluable team we have developed to serve those clients. If you are interested in working for a company with high standards of excellence and the prerequisite that it’s got to be fun, please submit a resume with availability and salary history.

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