Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lessons From a Lost Season: Succession Planning

I have written before about the most recent season of the National Football League's Seattle Seahawks and the actions of their previous head coach, Jim Mora Jr.  The Mora saga offers a number of opportunities for reflection on topics relating to human resources, recruiting, management and leadership.  Today, I though I'd focus on just one, succession planning.

Prior to Jim Mora, Jr., the Seahawks' head coach was Mike Holmgren.  By far, Holmgren was the most successful coach in the team's history, leading them to a succession of division titles and one Super Bowl appearance.  Holmgren led the team for 10 seasons.  In the last few, there were always rumours of the coach's imminent retirement.  Each year, he toyed with the idea of stepping down, but always decided to come back for one more season.

In 2007, the Seahawks hired Mora as an assistant head coach, and it was essentially confirmed that that he would replace Holmgren upon retirement.  In 2007, the Seahawks had a mediocre season, and it was thought that it might be Holmgren's last, but in 2008 he returned.  2008 was abysmal.  It was the worst under Holmgren and the worst the team had experienced in over a decade.  There was, apparently, locker room dissention, with some players being "Holmgren guys" and some being "Mora guys".  Following 2008, Holmgren finally retired.  He claimed to have promised his wife, but many thought he was pretty much forced out by management.

2009, under Mora, was, arguably, even worse than 2008.  It was not merely the number of losses, but of the poor effort put forth by season's end.  The situation was so bad that Mora lost his job after just one year (very few coaches are terminated after one season).  There are many reasons it went so wrong, but the poor succession planning was definitely a part of it.

Unlike many organizations, the Seahawks troubles in properly planning for personnel changes came from over-preparation, rather than under preparation.  It is one thing to identify potential candidates for promotion within your organization, or shortlist some external candidates, should the demand for one arise.  It is quite another thing to bring someone in ostensibly as a subordinate, but whom everyone knows will eventually be wearing the crown.

It's not unheard of to have a head coach-in-waiting.  In the 1990s, the New York Jets had already tagged Defensive Co-ordinator Bill Belichek as the replacement for the current head coach, Bill Parcells (another former Super Bowl winning coach), should Parcells step down.  However, The Jets did not bring Belichek in.  He was a disciple of Parcells, having worked for him with the New York Giants and again with the Jets.  There would be no concerns of "Belichek guys" vs. "Parcells guys" in the locker room, because Belichek himself would have been considered a "Parcells guy".

(It should be noted that this didn't quite work out for the Jets.  Even though it was in Belichek's contract that he would be offered the head coaching gig should Parcells leave, when Parcells took a job with the New England Patriots, Belichek rebuffed the Jets to follow Parcells to New England to remain as his Defensive Co-ordinator.  Nonetheless, it was a good attempt by the Jets.)
So, what should Seattle have done back in 2007, when they were concerned about Holmgren's potential retirement?  There are a few possibilities.

First, they could have afforded him full control over his future and done no succession planning whatsoever.  This may not seem like it would have been the wisest course of action, but it would have had one huge benefit: Mike Holmgren.  Holmgren was one of the best coaches in the league, and had been for a couple of decades.  He'd been to the Super Bowl three times with two different teams, winning once.  He had done more for the franchise than anyone other than owner Paul Allen.  He had certainly done more to raise the level of football that was played in the Pacific Northwest than anyone else.  An organization could have decided that keeping this man around for an extra year was worth more than any succession planning they could have done.  As well, the organization could have decided that, even if it left them in a potential hole, extending this courtesy was the proper thing to do.  It would have said much about the character of the organization.

(Ironically, the man who ousted Holmgren, General Manager Tim Ruskell, always put an emphasis on "high character" players, often to the team's detriment.)

Second, they could have consulted with Holmgren when planning.  The Seahawks Quarterbacks coach, Jim Zorn, seemed like a potential head coach to groom.  Not only was he good at his job, but he was one of the first stars of the organization after their inception in 1976 (he was their first ever starting Quarterback).  In fact, in 2008 Zorn was tapped as head coach for the Washington Redskins.  Granted, it didn't work out too well, but that's probably more about the Redskins than Zorn.  As well, Zorn may have been better suited for a head coaching job had he been given more mentoring by a potential Hall of Fame coach.

Beyond that, Homgren might have had some ideas of people outside the organization he would have liked to bring in as a replacement.  This could have been someone, unlike Mora, who had the same philosophy regarding systems and personnel as Holmgren, thus easing the eventual transition.
Third, they could have done succession planning in secret.  No, I'm not suggesting some deceptive covert operation; I just mean they could have started to investigate potential coaches they would have liked to hire without making any pronouncements.  This could have been an on-going initiative that was regularly re-visited.  Lists could have been revised as new information about aptitudes and availability came up.

Finally, they could have fired Holmgren.  This seems rather harsh, and quite rude, but it would have been a lot more straightforward than the path they eventually took.  In the end, it is a business, and if they truly felt that the future of the team lay with Jim Mora and not Mike Holmgren, it would have made sense to just turn the team over to Mora.  It would have been similar to what happened to Brett Favre in Green Bay.  The Packers had planned for his retirement (that still hasn't really happened), so they just parted ways with him.  His replacement, Aaron Rodgers, went to the Pro Bowl.  Yes, this sort of manoeuvre would have seemed unfair to Holmgren (and, arguably, it would have been), but it is, essentially, what they did; only they made it play out over two years.

Of course, maybe the question isn't what they could have done, but what they shouldn't have done.  They shouldn't have made a hiring decision for 2009 back in 2007.  They shouldn't have ignored the fact that the aspect of the team that Mora coached in 2007 and 2008 (the defensive backs) severely declined during his tenure underneath Holmgren.  They shouldn't have ignored Mora's intention to hire his friend, Greg Knapp, as Offensive Co-ordinator after Knapp had a fairly poor run as Oakland's Offensive Co-ordinator.  They shouldn't have decided to force the team's greatest coach out in order to bring in someone who'd recently flopped as Atlanta's head coach.

In the end, it seems that team’s management suffered from their infatuation with Mora, and it was quite understandable that they were initially infatuated with him.  He’d had some success as an NFL coach.  He was young; he was outgoing; and he was a hometown kid.  It was exactly the sort of story you’d want to see.  Unfortunately, this infatuation seems to have eliminated any critical thinking on the matter, and consequently, a team that played in the Super Bowl in February 2006 had become one of the worst teams in the NFL less than four years later.

This decline not only claimed Mora’s job; it claimed the job of the man who hired him, Tim Ruskell.  There are fewer lessons that are as clear about the necessity of proper succession planning as that of the 2009 Seattle Seahawks and Jim Mora, Jr.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The End of Jonathan McLeod Recruiting?

Well, no.  However, I have recently started a new job, and I will no longer be recruiting.  I will now be proposal writing.

But, I'll be working for a recruiting firm, and I'll still have thoughts to share, so do not worry, JMR will continue.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reruiting? What's That?

This afternoon, we received word that we won the contract for a bid we submitted three and a half months ago (yes, we sent off the proposal on January 4, such is the way things go sometimes).  Things have been slow this year, but on the bids we have made, we've got a good success rate.

Recruiting was definitely a part of this.  Finding people, identifying skills, maintaining good relationships with consultants - these are all very important skills.  However, we're not winning the contracts based on our recruiting acumen.

Our process for developing bids has turned greatly towards proposal writing.  Recently, we've been spending more and more time making sure that the proposal was perfect, and less time worrying about getting the perfect candidate (rarely is there a perfect candidate, we generally have to find a near-perfect candidate and go from there).  We have been winning bids with three things: proposal writing, competitive pricing and gumption.  It is for this reason that I am inclined to turn my career sites more towards proposal writing, away from straight recruiting.

What?!?!? or Writing Poorly Reasoned Blog Posts Seems to be the Path to Becoming a Professional Blogger

bNet currently has a very odd post written by Penelope Trunk about the bad career advice women give each other.  Why don't we dive right in:
When I was starting my career, I was in the software industry, where there are few women. And then I moved into the tech startup world, where there are even fewer women. The whole time, I have found that older men gave me great career advice and older women gave me bad advice. I am not sure why this is, but I am pretty sure that most women around my age (43) have had similar experiences. They just won’t talk about it publicly.
Oh yeah, well I've had horrible advice given to me by men!  Some of the worst advice I have received involves confusing anecdotes for data.

Anyway, let's move on to the worst advice this blogger has received from some women:
1) You can wait to have kids. There’s no rush.

Of course there’s a rush. Your chances of having a Down Syndrome baby skyrocket after you are older than 35. If you have two kids after age 30, you will probably have a miscarriage. Sixty percent of women do. And you’ll want time between kids. Most women do.
You know what, I'll give her this one, though I think something broader is required; it is important to strike a good and healthy work life/personal life balance.  The appropriate balance is going to vary between people, but it is good to make such decisions thoughtfully, with as much pertinent information as possible.

Moving on:
2) Report sexual harassment, even if it’s just a minor infraction.

This was good advice for the 1970s, when people didn’t believe it was happening. But now everyone knows it happens all the time. Please find me one woman who did not experience some sort of inappropriate behavior from a man during her first five years of work. We all know it’s happening. But we also know that there is no longer a salary gap between men and women, and we know that there are more unemployed men than women. So it’s hard to show that women are actually victimized at work today.
Wait, what?  There's no need to complain about sexual harassment because everybody knows it's going on?  First off, no, they don't.  Many people are not sufficiently aware to notice these things.  Second, in an age where we are, generally, more aware of these things, it should be easier to report them.  There should be fewer ramifications if you do (the key word there is "should").

Further, what on earth does the comparative salaries of men and women, on aggregate, have to do with anything?  A pay raise doesn't make you a sex toy.  Parity in the pay scale of men and women doesn't have anything to do with a specific incident of sexual harassment.  The fact that male and female CEOs will, ceteris paribus, make the same amount of money does not change the power structure of a senior male employee harassing a junior female employee.

Mercifully, this post only lists three "bad" pieces of advice:
3) Read business books to become a good leader.

Forget it. Most business books are written by men, and the latest research shows that men and women lead differently. Above all, women who lead like women do better than women who try to lead like men.
So women shouldn't read business books because they're written by men and men won't give the best career advice for women.  And this argument is coming from a female author who gets her career advice from men.  Huh.

(H/T: Evil Hr Lady, who is a great source of career advice, also blogs at bNet and has a more detailed response to Ms. Trunk here.  Further great career advice - from women! - can be found at Ask A Manager and Punk Rock HR.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Seminar Review - The Job Interview

There were fewer people out tonight, which, hopefully, was not a reflection of the value of the information that was gleaned the last two nights. Thankfully, those who were there were a lot more vocal. It's much better to help people with the issues they have, than to go over a lot of information they might already have.

So, without delay, the reviews...

The first three are solid. There is a suggestion that a seminar on job searching for new comers to Canada would be useful. This seems like a good suggestion. I'd need to do more prep work if I were to lead something like this, but I'd certainly be game.

The rest of them were good, too. It's nice to know that people found the seminars useful. There were a couple of reviews that suggested more time was needed. I completely agree, however it might be difficult for people to commit more time.

Another person suggested doing a mock interview, and then discussing it. This would definitely require more time, but if you have people who are interested in it, it can be quite useful. If people aren't really interested, then I don't think it would be quite useful.

So that's it for now. There may be more to come in September. As with previous seminars, I quite enjoyed this. Maybe, years from now, I'll try doing this sort of thing full time.

Lessons From a Lost Season: Jim Mora, Jr. edition

It can be a curse to see the world through the lens of your job.  It can also be quite interesting.  At times, it can be rather insightful (see Punk Rock HR on the Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien affair here and here... and notice the prescience).

The National Football League's Seattle Seahawks suffered through an abysmal 2009 season, the first and only season featuring Jim Mora, Jr. as head coach.  Much about his hiring, tenure and dismissal makes for great fodder for a recruiting/HR blog, and I've been meaning to comment on it for a while.  I'll start with some comments he made last month.

As background, Mora was being asked about a new quarterback Seattle had acquired by trade from the San Diego Chargers since Mora's departure, Charlie Whitehurst.  Now Whitehurst is by no means a household name, and, to Mora, this presented an opportunity to attack his former employer:
I had no idea who Charlie Whitehurst was until there was talk about him, I'd never heard of the guy. Then I was reminded that he was the guy that threw the interception to Nick Reed in the preseason. I don't know much about the guy. Obviously they saw something in him and think he can he successful. I have some friends on the San Diego staff, and they're feeling pretty darn good about the deal.
The audio of the interview can be found here.

(As further background, Nick Reed played for the Seahawks last year under Mora.)

There are a number of ways to interpret this, but it seems pretty obvious that Mora is still bitter.  He attended the nearby University of Washington and made no secret of the fact that coaching the Seahawks would be a dream job, so the bitterness is understandable.  However, a potential head coach in the NFL is constantly being evaluated.  One does not merely submit a resume, go to an interview and then get the job.  Coaches are high profile, and they are judged, in part, on the profile they maintain.  I don't know if Mora wants to ever be a head coach in the NFL again, but if he does, he should be, essentially, in constant job interview mode.

And you never disparage a former employer or supervisor in a job interview.  This is always a giant red flag.

There are a few reasons for this little rule.  First, it's just bad form.  There is no one there to explain the employer's side of the story.  You're picking on someone who can't defend himself.  That's just rude. 
Tangentially, you're demonstrating your willingness to bad mouth someone behind their back.  This is not behaviour that I would ever desire in an employee.  Someone like that could be an automatic cancer for your company.

Remember, employers expect people to be on their best behaviour in interviews.  If this is the best that we can expect from you, what would you be like when you're just being yourself?

I should note that I have, generally, been pretty blessed when it comes to companies and supervisors.  I've had few bad bosses, and the companies I have worked for have, for the most part, treated me with respect.  Nonetheless, I could find faults with pretty much every person I have ever worked with, as they could me.  However, there is no way that I would ever complain about a previous boss or employer.  If necessary, I could explain issues that I had with management (and sometimes this is an appropriate topic in an interview), but I would also explain how I dealt with those issues.  I would do it all respectfully.  This way, I would, hopefully, demonstrate the professional manner with which I deal with difficult and unpleasant situations.

After Monday's post, it may seem a little hypocritical to criticize Mora for his outburst, but remember, there is a difference between being candid and being an adolescent.

It is also wise to keep in mind that your interviewer might have some inside knowledge.  It is bad enough to appear a bitter child, but you could also be proven a fool, as in Mora's case:

Although Whitehurst remains an obscurity to casual fans, it defies reason that Mora has never heard of him. During Mora’s first preseason game as a Seahawks defensive assistant, in 2007, Whitehurst threw 22 passes against Seattle. During Mora’s first preseason game as Seahawks head coach, Whitehurst threw 29 passes against Seattle.

Furthermore, Whitehurst, who holds most of the career passing records at Clemson, was a four-year starter in college; his final two seasons coincided with Mora’s first two seasons as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, who make their year-round headquarters in Flowery Branch, Ga.

Clemson is 86.7 miles away from Flowery Branch. The coach on a crusade against lies and deception wants you to think he’s never heard of quarterback who starred on a campus that’s 86.7 miles away from where Mora used to work, who grew up in the same Atlanta suburb (Duluth, Ga., population 26,000) where Mora once lived, who retired as the third-leading passer in ACC history, who outplayed Jay Cutler in the Senior Bowl, who was drafted in the third round and went on to throw 51 passes against Seattle over two preseason games.
In this light, Mora's statement demonstrates he is either incompetent or dishonest, and I'm not sure which is worse.  Nonetheless, I have a little sympathy for Mora.  No one likes to lose their job, but his behaviour tells us more about him than he would probably want.

And this is my point.  What you do and say will say a lot more about you than you intend.  It is important to keep this in mind when searching for a job.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Green Shoots, Cosmetics edition.

Coming home from tonight's seminar, I was walking through the intersection of Bank St. and Laurier Ave.  Recently, a large apartment building/condo was built on the southwest corner.  The main floor is home to a Shopper's Drug Mart.  The drug store had relocated from the northeast corner of the intersection.  It's now bigger and quite a bit nicer.  This was definitely an improvement.

Unfortunately, that left a rather large storefront vacant.  Considering the state of the economy, and the fact that a number of storefronts downtown had been vacant for quite some time, I assumed this would lie fallow for a while.

As you can see by the picture to the right, this is not the case.  A new cosmetics store, Murale, is opening up.  They're currently renovating the interior, and I don't know when they'll start doing business, but this seems like a good sign.

The storefront is quite striking.  There's a long stretch of these white signs with purple lettering (along the side of the building that you can't see).  It doesn't quite fit with the brown brick, but I think, overall, it works, in an odd urban-renewal sort of way.  And regardless, I'm just happy that the site won't be empty and boarded up for months.