You’re Looking For a Candidate That Doesn’t Exist Right Now

unicorn

Contrary to popular belief, this is a lousy market for employers trying to hire professional services employees. There is very little good or great talent out there. Here are the reasons:

  1. While the unemployment rate is indeed about 14-16%, it’s less than 7% for people with college degrees. When you eliminate the (substantial) number of people included in the 7% figure who are working part-time, you’re looking at a lower number again.
  2. Great employees in the professional services industries have been retained by their firms during the pandemic. The vast majority of people looking for work are the weak employees that their firms didn’t want to retain in the first place.
  3. Further, those great employees are extremely reluctant to switch jobs right now. They now have security where they are, regardless of our happy they are in their jobs. It will take a lot to make them switch in this time of uncertainty.

So to find someone right now means we’re either going to have to completely overpay or give them such a compelling reason they won’t have a choice but to switch jobs.

Or, we’re going to have to settle for someone who’s out of work, and likely because they weren’t that valuable to their employer in the first place.

I’ve talked to a number of recruiters who work in and out of the professional services space who are seeing the same thing.

We’re currently helping clients hire white-collar professionals: three openings at two public accounting firms, one at a law firm, a COO for an insurance broker, a senior property accountant at a property management company, and some other related hires. We’re working with recruiters on most of those hires. There’s no one good out there.

So if you think there’s currently a bunch of fantastic employees out there just dying for a job and can’t wait to work for you, think again.

[Note: this does not apply to our clients in manufacturing, hospitality, warehouse, and related industries – indeed – there are a LOT of great employees looking for work there]

Does this change if unemployment starts to go away or be significantly reduced, or if there is no second stimulus check? Unlikely. It will just increase the number of candidates applying who have been out of work.

If, however, there is a second downturn in the economy, and businesses have to shed good employees to stay viable, that might be the uptick in qualified candidates we need. Professional services firms will then need to decide whether to eliminate positions or rollback salaries.

Mental Health & The New Workplace

I’m really starting to become concerned about mental health in the workplace. People – those who actually have jobs – are generally working way too much, because work expands to the time allotted. This especially applies to many people who are working from home. So one part of my concern is overwork.

And for those who don’t have jobs, studies and surveys are starting to show stress is increasing as more and more businesses reopen and rehire. Am I going to be safe at work?

The other part of it is: everybody’s completely stressed out. This is a trauma. It’s not like you can go home and get away from the stuff that’s going on at work, and you can’t go to work to get away from the stuff that’s going on at home. As a result, you’re worried 24/7, regardless of where you are. The days of work being a refuge from the troubles at home, or home being a refuge from your problems at work are gone, at least for now.

It’s not like you can go home and get away from the stuff that’s going on at work, and you can’t go to work to get away from the stuff that’s going on at home

We’ve been living this life non-stop for three months now. It’s really important to encourage all of your employees to take some time off. Even if they have to go home for a day and they have to watch their kids, it’s time away from something.

At a minimum, people need to change the scenery. You absolutely should be taking a day off, or a mental health day or whatever you want to call it. But my big concern coming back to work is, people are going to be so stressed out they’re not going to know what to do.

Sometimes you have to force quiet time for yourself. Yesterday, I bought everyone on my team the Calm App. They seem to be over the top with it; they especially liked the gesture, the intent with which it was given. Anytime you can make a change, it’s good, whether it’s adding meditation or it’s getting away from this or that. You’ve got to make a change because otherwise, every day is the same. Monotony is unhealthy.

We’ve all been traumatized, even if you don’t think or act like you’ve been traumatized. We may not feel it all right now, but sooner or later we’re going to feel it.

So don’t wait for a holiday. Don’t wait for that Friday when you want to take a random day off. It’s important to just a break. So it’s OK to take a Wednesday off. Sometimes Wednesdays are the best day because it breaks up the middle of the week. Work two days, off one day, work two more days and then it’s the weekend.

Showing Tangible Gratitude, Inexpensively

It doesn’t cost your company a dime to give somebody a day off. It would be amazing if you said to every employee: “You know what? To thank you for doing all you’ve been doing, we’re giving everybody one free extra day of paid time off to be taken by a certain day. We want to schedule it so we have appropriate staffing, of course, but we want to give you this gift to thank you for how hard you’ve been working.

That gesture costs you nothing to do, and it will be greatly appreciated by your teams.

Valuing What We Value

We are valuing today what we took for granted yesterday. It’s little things – being able to go to the beach or a restaurant, or hug your friends. Perhaps one positive arising out of this crisis is that we won’t take so many things for granted in the future.

Leadership Is Still Leadership

Managing People ebook
It doesn’t matter if we’re in the middle of a pandemic, or all your employees are
working from home (or you had to let go of employees…the principles of leadership
remain the same:
It’s all about communication.
You are always on stage.
Adversity breeds success.
Everything you do and how you do it should create trust in those around you.
It’s all about Emotional Intelligence.
Be true to yourself and your values.

The Importance Of People To Your Success

restaurant

Last week, I met with a longtime client. He is a co-owner of a multiple franchised restaurants, and you’d instantly recognize the business name if I was of a mind to tell you. He’s such a good person that I agreed to meet with him in person at his office across town. (It was the first time I’ve worn long pants in more than two months).

On my drive back home, I remembered one of my favorite stories about their business  and a constant reminder about how every employee – no matter who they are or what they do is so critical to success, and why being quick on the trigger to fire is better than the opposite (although lawyers and HR ‘professionals’ have been trying to brainwash us the other way for years).

Here’s the story.

In 2010, I was invited to speak to about 200 of their franchise owners at their annual franchisee meeting in Las Vegas.

I showed up early and watched a breakout session. Apparently there was one franchise owner who was renowned for being able to take over a low performing restaurant and turn it around almost immediately. Everyone wanted to know his secret.

He said, “I buy the restaurant, and the first thing I do is fire all of the employees and hire new ones.” It was that simple.

He put in employees who were better at customer service, who were trained how to upsell, who were better with people.

I’ve used that story in one of my books and many times when giving keynotes at conferences.

People are the one thing that takes most consumers from feeling transactional about our product, service, restaurant, to feeling transformed by our service, product, restaurant. People are the difference between going somewhere once and becoming lifelong customers.

As a leader, in this economy, you’re about to have your pick of many people grateful to have this experience and you shouldn’t settle for anything less than fantastic, transformative, passionate and enthusiastic about what you do and whom you do it for.

15 Ways To Help Employees Connect When They Work From Home

Working from home because of COVID-19? Here are 10 ways to spend ...

  1. Make sure there are opportunities, whether onsite or virtually, to have small groups of remote employees have coffee meeting from time to time (say, on a quarterly basis) to hear directly from the organization’s leaders, including opportunities for Q&A. Keep the groups to less than 8 people for maximum engagement and involvement
  2. Assign a mentor to connect with employees monthly. Not just for mentoring specifically, but also company communication and especially for the office grapevine.
  3. During zoom meetings, assign one person who asks for remote staff input.
  4. When office social events resume – especially office lunches, make sure to send delivery services to remote employees.
  5. Remember birthdays and work anniversary dates remote employees.
  6. Set up daily Zoom Office Lunches. Whoever wants to join, can. No pressure. Very informal, and make sure to keep most of the bosses away.
  7. Encourage remote employees to have virtual coffee breaks, cocktails, or even walks with their peers.
  8. Direct supervisors should have a regular ‘check-in’ session with remote employees and even discuss issues that aren’t business related.
  9. Send some company branded items/swag remote employees can put in their office, and any time similar items are distributed, make sure they’re sent to the remotes.
  10. Create an electronic newsletter/Slack channel to keep remote employees in the loop and to recognize them.
  11. Make sure you have the right people managing remote employees. Managers who are competent, but not great communicators and connectors are not appropriate to manage remote employees
  12. Set expectations and manage to them weekly. Not ‘how’ or ‘when’ to do things, but results. These days, goals are far more important than activity.
  13. Ask remote employees individually for their suggestions on improving engagement, whether they be new tools, or communication ideas, or how frequently to communicate. They’re in a better position to know what works than you do.
  14. Friendly competitions are always fun. Create a company-wide trivia game on a Slack channel. One question daily.
  15. Ask each remote employee for their best practices when it comes to health and wellness when working from home.

17 Years Later…A New Book

 

In 2003, I quit my job (without having another job), decided to start my own business and write a book.

 

The book identified the leadership styles of the best people I had worked for in 17 years of corporate life. It was called “Managing People in the 21st Century”.

Late last year, I realized that I had all new stories and anecdotes from the next 17 years, conducting leadership programs around the country and working closely with hundred of business owners and executives.

The result is a complete revamp of the original book.

But what surprised me the most is that the essential characteristics of leaders have stayed the same. Leadership styles have changed, but leadership fundamentals have not.

Adjustments have been made to today’s contemporary workforce, but again they’re stylistic, not fundamental changes.

And clearly the pandemic crisis has necessitated change, but only to accelerate and make intentional those darn fundamentals, which again stay the same.

The book’s available at all the usual suspects, starting here.

Thanks!

On Gratitude in Times of Crisis

I can’t remember who got me focusing on gratitude, but it’s only been a few years since it happened.
Since then, time after time I find myself returning to the things and people that and whom I’m grateful for. It becomes a really long list and – especially in times like this, reviewing that list is more rewarding than almost anything else I’m doing right now.
We’ve all spent the majority of our time in the past few weeks focusing on preserving our families and businesses; learning about Covid-19 and trying to understand what is being done so we can adapt our lives and businesses as fast as possible.
We are in an incredible time of the unknown, and moving from the known to the unknown is the biggest stressor we can have.
Gratitude helps take us back to the known. It reminds us of things we’re proud of (in a time where we tend to focus much of our energy on what’s scary). And it’s alot easier to focus on the negative than remember the positive.
So I want to think about gratitude; things that are actually going well during this time; and what leaders can do during this time.
So, let’s practice a little gratitude, shall we?

Leadership in the Coronavirus Era

The Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) truly defines uncertainty for every business and every person. No one can predict what’s going to happen, how long it’s going to last, or what the real impact will be.

What I know is right now the impact is significant and in many different ways. I’ve had hospitality clients lay off significant numbers of their employees. Many non-profits are closing down, and the ones that are open (because they’re an ‘essential business’ are navigating waters they’ve never navigated before.

Most families today are two-income families. With kids home, that means one parent has to take off work. And despite the increase in work from home, there’s not a lot a person can work on when they’re taking care of the kids.

The impact, of course, is not limited to business. We are all worried about our jobs, family, friends and associations.

This extraordinary time sees three related crises all at once. This isn’t just an economic crisis; it’s a health crisis, an economic crisis, and ultimately a crisis of the unknown: what will it look like when it’s over. And all three are of a scale never seen before.

As a leadership and workforce strategist, part of the strength I bring to the table is I’ve “been there/done that”.  I’ve either done it, witnessed it, or led it in my 30-year career. But nothing in our lifetimes compares to this.

There are extraordinary demands on leaders in every avenue.

So what is a leader to do? My guidance is – do what all leaders are supposed to do in normal times – and, do it on steroids.

My guidance is – do what all leaders are supposed to do in normal times – and, do it on steroids.

It’s all about communication

Even in the best of times, I’ve never seen an employee survey where the results said, “there’s too much communication.” Now is the time to over-communicate. Even if you don’t know the answer, communicate that. (Any response is better than no response at all.)

That means frequent one-to-group communication (e-mails, video conferencing, virtual coffees and happy hours).  It means saying “here’s what I know, and here’s when I’m going to get back to you”.

People are nervous. They need to hear from you.

And when there’s bad news, be upfront and immediate with it. Don’t hide bad news. I have a client with a very successful business in the hospitality industry. He realized early on that he was going to have to lay off employees (about half of his team). He realized that on the evening of Thursday, March 5 (well before the restaurants shutdowns and quarantines). He texted me early the next morning, I gave him my thoughts and potential strategies. By noon, he addressed all his employees, preparing them for bad news. On Monday, March 9, he gave the bad news to everyone. Nothing was sugarcoated or delayed. As soon as he knew, he made sure his employees knew.

You are always on stage.

Your people take their cues from you. If you are calm and thoughtful, you’ll put people more at ease. If you’re not, well, that’s an issue to.

Take a look at our leaders on a national stage. Who are we paying attention to? Which of them are making decisions, showing empathy, and are doing the right thing?

I’m not going to single any one politician out; I can do without the politically related comments at a time like this. But I would like to mention one person I’m listening to without fail: Dr. Anthony Fauci. We he speaks, I listen. He’s calm, cool, fact-based. He thinks before he acts and speaks. He’s tremendously knowledgeable and even though this pandemic is unprecedented, he acts like he’s been there. (And in a way he has: he’s advised every President since Ronald Reagan). In a nutshell: he’s acting the way a leader should act.

What You Do (and How You Do It) Is Critical

All you can do is your best. But make sure that – to the best of your ability, you create a sense of trust. Trust is a combination of communication and honesty. (That’s not so hard, but it’s hard to practice it every day). Trust also derives from your established values and ethics.

Always follow your values; your decisions will be much easier.

It’s all about Emotional Intelligence

What are your people thinking and feeling? What are their issues? Are you asking, do you understand (because you need to). This is even more important when employees are working remotely. People need to feel tethered to the organization they work for.

When you’re conducting video-based meetings, pay extra attention to non-verbal clues from your team. As much as possible, connect on an individual basis with those you work for and with you. Ask how they are (and mean it). Show compassion – but you can’t fake compassion if you don’t have it.

You Don’t Have the Luxury of Time

In these unchartered times, there’s nothing to fall back on. The adage that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert is still probably true, but we no longer have that much time.

So make sure to make decisions quickly – and be prepared to change your mind frequently. (This what we call leadership agility). You can second guess yourself all you want to in six months from now. But at this time – make change, enact change, but don’t get tied down to any decision you make.

And try and embrace everything and anything new! There has never been a better time to experiment – because we have to. I’d never participated in a Google hangout until 3 days ago. It can be done.

You Don’t Have All the Answers.

So make sure to ask your team what ideas they have to help during these turbulent times. It gives them a sense of ownership and helps them help you. And make sure to empower your leaders to lead – not everything need come to and through you. There will never be a better time to see who can step up than now. Adversity breeds success.

Be True to Yourself.

Remember who you are and don’t forget where you came from. You have established values, principles and ethics. If you haven’t done so already – write them down and review them every day. Intellectual curiosity – learn more, ask more questions, research and thus improve and become more valuable to those around you.

To My Employees re: Coronavirus

coronavirus_illustration

I sent this e-mail to my team on Monday, March 9. My team consists of seven Human Resource Consultants who work with our clients as on- and off-site HR Managers, and five administrative/operations staff. The HR Consultants mostly work remotely; my admin team works in our office.

The Coronavirus issue has started to take over all of our lives, both personally and professionally. It’s consuming the way we make decisions as well as how we do what we do.

I’m obviously not an expert on this; I’ve probably read and seen as much information on the subject as you have; there’s little if any information regarding the virus itself that I can share with you that you haven’t already seen.

So in thinking about this and the way it impacts RSJ/Swenson and our clients, I’ve come up with some guidelines to follow.

  1. Use your best judgement at all times. In deciding whether or not to make a visit to a client, use your best judgement. If you’re not comfortable, don’t go. We’ll back you up on our end.
  2. Logistically, we’ll set each of you up with Zoom accounts. You can conduct meetings, calls, conferences either by zoom, by phone, or e-mail like always.
  3. If you primarily work in the office, my RSJ Partners and I are committed to making sure our environment is as safe as possible.
  4. If you’re sick, don’t come in to work. You can work from home. If you’re out of sick days, call Jamie. You won’t lose money because of it. I’d rather have you not come in than come in. Work from home is fine.

But…

I’m personally a lot more concerned about the business impact on our clients (and  than the virus itself.

This was brought home to me on Friday when a long-time client (that is really successful) called me asking for assistance on how to eliminate half of his employees. Seems that the banks have withdrawn credit because of fears that contracts will be cancelled.

There are many other clients that will be directly impacted as well. Our museum and private school clients are going to close for who knows how long. I’m hearing that restaurants will be impacted and many other industries as well. We have clients in import/export, financial services, and non-profits that could take a hit.

At a minimum, all businesses are now scared, and when they’re scared, they don’t make decisions. The first instinct is to downsize or buried heads in the sand. This happened in 2008-09.

Thus, the most important business decision we can make is to proactively reach out to each of our clients.

You are looked to as the Subject Matter Expert on how to deal with the workforce. Right now, we need to add as much value as we can. What we do is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. But we can only be perceived as necessary if we are constantly adding as much value as we can.

We’ll have a conference/video call next week to discuss particulars and share stories and anecdotes of how we’re helping our clients. Until then, please make sure you’re in touch with each and every client in a proactive (not reactive) way.

Thank you for all you do.

Eric

I Turned Off From E-mail for 8 Days. Here’s What Happened.

computer desk electronics indoors

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

I’ve been around long enough to have worked in the “pre e-mail” days – I remember vividly how excited my colleagues and I were when the company got a fax machine (“We won’t have to drive documents around to our clients anymore!”)

I clearly remember in 1997 sending my first e-mail.  Do you remember how excited we all were when we actually received an e-mail?  (“You’ve Got Mail!”).

But instead of increasing freedom, electronic communication has instead created a mentality of “I have to be connected at all times”.  Until the advent of e-mail, that didn’t happen.

In 1993, I took a one-month vacation by myself.  I flew to Chicago, then drove to Toronto, Montreal, and then spent time viewing fall foliage in New England, saw a few hockey games, drove back through Pennsylvania and Ohio, and flew home.  I didn’t have a cell phone; e-mail was several years away, and the internet was limited to a few college professors.  How did I ever survive taking a month off without checking in?

Today, I get about 750 e-mails each week.  Like you, I can become a slave to e-mail.  (A recent survey showed that the average employee spends about 25% of their time responding to and sending e-mails).

So in the course of a generation, we’ve gone from e-mail as a savior to e-mail as the bane of our existence.  In fact, it’s becoming somewhat of a status symbol to be able to walk away from Gmail or Outlook for a period of time.

Thus it’s a particular pleasure when I can untether for a week and not worry about them.  My wife and I recently took an 8 day trip to Italy, and I was determined not to check my e-mails.  But I knew I had to worry about client needs, employee issues, and the day-to-day detritus that’s part of being a business owner and entrepreneur.

What happened?

  1. I prepared.

Our trip was scheduled for October 12-20, 2019.  A week before vacation, I notified all of my key clients that I’d be out of the office for 8 days without access to e-mail.  This was their hint if they needed something from me, don’t wait for October 12 to inform me.  I also put the dates I’d be on vacation on my e-mail signature.

I met with each of my administrative team to review any outstanding issues they had, and built in time to meet with each of them after I returned.  My consulting team was handled the same way.

A couple of days before leaving, I talked with our receptionist to review “if this person calls, send them to this team member”.

Our Director of Operations has worked with me for nearly 10 years, and she has an excellent sense of what I need to know and what I don’t.  I was confident that if something really needed my attention, she’d let me know via text.

Note: having a reliable team is essential to success.  If you can’t trust your team when you’re gone, then you need a new team.

The final preparation? We decided to leave on a Saturday morning, which meant the first two days of vacation were days where there was little likelihood of having to worry about an urgent e-mail.

I didn’t trust myself.

Despite the preparations and my commitment, I didn’t completely trust myself.  So I had our IT expert completely disconnect my iPhone, iPad, and laptop from e-mail connectivity.  Even if I wanted to check, I couldn’t.  This might have been the scariest thing of all, but I was determined not to leave any excuse on the table.

I still went through withdrawals.

Despite the trust and preparation, I still worried.  We’re so conditioned to check e-mails so often that getting out of that routine isn’t easy.  I found myself wanting to check several times during the first few days.  But I couldn’t.  So I found myself focusing more on our vacation – where we were going and when we were there – getting more into the moment.

I returned on a Sunday and devoted some deep time to managing e-mail.

By previous arrangement, I arranged with our IT guru to ‘re-connect’ me on the Sunday we returned.  So we got home from the airport, unpacked, took a nap, then I took a very deep breath, and connected.

There were 670 emails in my in box. I ‘triaged’ them into 3 categories:

  • Newsletters & related e-mails. There were 78 of them.  It took me about 20 minutes to go through them.
  • “FYI” type e-mails – from my team, clients, business associates. There were 500 of them, and it took me another hour to review them.  Not one of them required a response or action from me.
  • Which left me with 38 “actionable” e-mails, which required a response or decision from me. 1 more hour.

I can’t emphasize how important this step is.  You need deep time – completely uninterrupted time – in order to clear your inbox.  If I had waited until Monday morning to do this, I’d still have a full inbox a month later, what with meetings, calls, interruptions, etc.  If you don’t have the ability to check your e-mails on weekends when returning from an email-less trip, then make sure to block the first 3 hours on the first day you return.

And…I was done.  That was it.  I went to work on Monday morning with an open and clear mind.  I survived without e-mail for 8 days.  It was a bit humbling (“I guess I’m not needed all of the time”) but ultimately freeing.

Did problems happen when I was gone?  Absolutely.  A brand new employee quit on her third day.  I didn’t find out until my return.  My Operations Director decided there was nothing I could do from Italy except stress out (and she was right).

Lessons?

  1. When you disconnect, your team will step up. (there’s a corollary with delegation).
  2. I’m not as essential to the every day operation as I thought I was.
  3. My clients, once they knew what I was doing, were completely supportive (and a little jealous). All it took was a bit of time to let them know what I was doing, and when.
  4. The feeling of going from stressful to freedom was really important, and created space in my brain to do what a vacation is intended to do – refresh and rejuvenate.
  5. I’ll be doing this on all our long vacations in the future.

To determine how important something is, walk away from it for 10 days.  Were you able to live without it?  Then it really wasn’t that important.

None of us are as important as we think we are.  The fact that we feel we have to check-in, check e-mails or texts just reinforces that ego.  Walking away is the component necessary to dissuade you of the “I’m indispensable” mode.