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.

Seminar Review - Resume Writing

So, tonight I led a seminar on resume writing.  This is a topic that I find quite important.  In my experience, most people don't like writing resumes, and many just follow some advice they received about writing resumes, without ever thinking critically about that advice.

This is not to meant to be insulting to people.  I understand why people hate writing resumes.  I used to hate it to.  It's only as resume writing has become part of my job, and I've started thinking strategically about it that it no longer seems like a wretchedly labourious chore.

And that's what I should stress, as with the rest of your job search, you need to have a strategy when composing your resume.  Be thoughtful and deliberate.

Anyway, this post isn't about resume writing, per se, it's about about the seminar.  It's so difficult to judge these things.  A few people were asking questions, and this is always a good thing; it keeps me from falling into lecture mode.  I could talk about resume writing for five hours (literally... the last time I did these, the seminars were three hours, I spoke the whole time, and still had to leave information out).

So yeah, I feel pretty good about it, but let's go through the reviews from the participants.

The first few are pretty good.  No one is completely dissatisfied, and most seemed please.

The rest are pretty much the same.  All but one were quite positive, and even the worst review gave the seminar a mediocre grade.  That's a pretty good batting average.

Unfortunately, no one had any suggestions.  It's understandable.  It's an immediate review, so no one has the opportunity to ruminate on it very much - and I imagine people were eager to get home - but it would be helpful to get some pointers.

(Ya know, I just re-read that, and I think it might come off a little ungrateful.  I don't mean to demand that I get good reviews and constructive advice.  I'm quite pleased that people liked the presentation.  I just mean to say that I am under no delusion that I am perfect at this, and I am eager to improve.)

Well, that's two down.  Tomorrow night, we'll be looking at interview tips.  I think the class might be full, but if you're interested, you can try registering here.

And if anyone who has seen these presentations is reading, feel free to leave further comments.

On Leadership, Management and Vision

Sometimes ideas pop into your head and pop out in an instance.  Sometimes they linger for a while and fade.  Sometimes, you'll be struck by a thought and you won't be able to shake it.  It may find from your primary thoughts, but it will never completely recede.  It will appear, suddenly, every now and then to shed light on a particular topic or situation.

I have found myself, recently, regularly revisiting the idea of leadership, in all its forms.  I have begun thinking more and more about the divisions of leadership, and the various roles that can be a fit for each individual.  I have thought more and more about the distinction between leaders, managers and visionaries.  It seems to me that too few people in the realm of business take appropriate care to distinguish between the three.

I have written about leadership before, and I will, likely, write about it again.  I have admiration for strong leaders, and I am confident that when I have been put in a leadership position, I have served capably.  Nonetheless, I think this quality can become overblown... or at least conflated with other qualities, and sought out in a position that does not, necessarily, require it.

At this point, I am going to eschew any definitions of leadership.  Others have already done that, both conventionality and otherwise, and I have no eagerness to follow that path.  I will note that leadership is more than just being good at your job.  It's more than just knowing what has to be done.  The most important part of leading others would seem to be, at least to me, the others.  I imagine a leader is not properly judged by the trail he blazes, but by those who are able to follow that trail.

It also seems to me that management and leadership are often conflated; a good manager will be a good leader and vice versa.  So, someone in your employ who has shown quality leadership of a team will be the natural choice to take on a managerial role.  Sadly (considering I have seen this decision made numerous times), there is not a direct correlation between managerial prowess and leadership.  Managers will be called upon to execute a host of tasks that have little or nothing to do with leadership.  They must set targets, balance priorities, oversee progress and allocate resources.  None of this, necessarily, requires a strong leader.  I don't mean to suggest that managers are merely caretakers, but, sometimes, that is what they are called to be.

Visionaries are a completely different beast.  To have the foresight - the prescience - to discern a path for a company, or for a team, is a special gift.  Especially when that path is murky and success is but an indiscernible speck on the horizon, the ability to set out a successful vision is a rare skill.  In and of itself, this requires no ability to lead and no ability to manage.

So, what's the point of this long, rambling post?  Well, I have no specific prescriptions for identifying each skill, nor do I have a perfect method for determining which is most important for a particular role (as it is rarely a choose-one-and-only-one scenario).

My only real advice is that, as with all human resource decisions and talent evaluation, it is important to assess the skills your team members actually have, not those you wish or assume they have.  You will do them no favours by putting them in positions for which they are ill-suited.  And you will do yourself no favours by not maximizing the rewards from the particular talents they do have.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seminar Review

Tonight I was at the Ottawa Public Library leading a seminar on job searching using the internet.  It went fine.  There was some participation by those in attendance, and that's usually a good sign.  However, you can get really diverse groups for these sorts of things, so you never really know if everybody is getting something out of it.

...or, at least, that's how it used to be.

Tonight, for the first time, there was actually a formal review form filled out by participants.  So I'll now go through them.  This should be interesting.  Hopefully, I'll get some good suggestions on how to improve the presentation.

Well, the first couple were positive.  There are concerns about the pace of the seminar and the length of time.  Both seem like fair issues.

Overall, the reviews were positive (though I assume that most people will tend to be err on the side of being nice, especially since they're going to see me two more nights).  One person did suggest some other courses they'd like to see, including:
  • Facebook;
  • Introduction to web-based email (gmail);
  • Searching for beginners (Yahoo!, Google); and,
  • How to really find information on the net.
This highlights a potential issue with my presentation.  I went into the seminar with some basic assumptions - that people were comfortable with the internet, used email, etc.  I tried to touch on these things briefly, but with only an hour, I couldn't spend much time on basic internet use.

I think the final suggestion is quite interesting, and probably useful to more people than realize it.  I have become pretty comfortable searching the internet (it is, after all, part of my job), and even I can benefit from some tips (by the way, if you need any, you can just google, google tips).

I'll be back at the library the next two nights, tomorrow for resume and cover letter writing, Thursday for interviewing tips.  I don't know if there is still room, but, if you're interested, you can register here.

Finally, for any Algonquin College students out there, I might be making a visit to the Woodroffe campus next week.  I'll post more information once it is confirmed.

Shortlisted Then Not

A while ago (yes, I've really been neglecting the blog), a friend contacted me for some advice regarding a potential job.  She had received an email asking to set up an interview.  When she responded, she received a rather terse reply telling her that there was not, in fact, any intention to interview her for this position.

This is something that probably happens a lot.  There's a number of ways that this could happen, and a number of responses.  One could merely thank them and move on, apologize for bothering them, slink away without replying or send an angry email back.  I suggested none of those options.

It seems to me that as long as communication is flowing between you and a hiring agent, you can still make a play.  In this scenario, you can attempt to leverage the initial interview offer into, at least, a second viewing of your resume.  You can also use this as a chance to expand on the reasons that you would have been a good fit for the job.  You have be thoughtful, deliberate and focused in your reply (of course, you should be thoughtful, deliberate and focused in your job search, anyway), and you might need to tread a little carefully to maximize your chances of turning fortune in your favour.  If you don't execute things properly, this will be your last shot at landing the job.

Of course, even if you execute this well, there still may be no hope.  But if that's the case, why not take one final, desperate shot?

So, below is my response.  It was a quick, off-the-cuff response, so it's not really deliberate or focused - it's more in the stream of consciousness style.  If you have any thoughts or advice, please do share.  Only once have I had to keep a job application of mine alive when it had appeared to be discarded, so I am by no means an expert.

First question, how much contact had you already had with this organization?  Had you just submitted an application/resume then received a message saying you were shortlisted? 

Second (well, third, I guess) question, was the person who told you that you were shortlisted the same as the person who sent you the terse note?  Was this the same as the person to whom you initially applied (or did you apply to a generic email address or through an automated system)?

Here's why I'm asking, there can often be some mis-communication within an organization if multiple people are involved in the screening, hiring and interviewing processes.  If the person who told you that you were shortlisted (Person A) is different than the one who said you weren't (Person B), you have a potential ally in your candidacy.

If this is the situation, you'll want to contact both parties at once.  If Person A is clearly higher up in the management chain than Person B, I would send a polite email to Person A thanking them for extending an invitation for an interview, but, unfortunately, it appears that you were not shortlisted.  I would try to make sure that there is a full email string on this.  The original message, followed by your response, followed by Person B's response.  I would also cc Person B on this.

If Person B is clearly in a higher position, or you can't tell who is, I would send an email to Person B, responding to the curt message, cc-ing Person A.  I would thank them for their response.  I would also state that I had been looking forward to the proposed interview, but understand that they are currently moving forward with other candidates.  I would then say that I would still be interested in the position in the event that none of the other shortlisted candidates were found to be a fit.  Finally, I would finish the email by thanking them for their time.

Okay, now if it was the same person who invited you for an interview and who sent you the terse note (we'll still call this person Person B), I would say something like:

"Hello Person B,

I am disappointed to hear that.  After you had proposed an interview in your initial email, I was quite looking forward to the chance to discuss this position with you.  It sounds like an exciting opportunity, and something for which I would be well suited.  Nonetheless, I understand that you are moving forward with other candidates at this time.  Should none of them be deemed a fit, please feel free to contact me if you would like to re-visit my candidacy.

Thank you for your time,
The Best Candidate You Never Hired (or just your name)

This is similar to the previous message, but there are a few differences. In this last scenario, though I would thank Person B for their time, I wouldn't thank them for their response.  There's no chance of mis-communication here (though the terse message could be a mistake), so you can be a little more forceful.  This is also why I would pointedly mention the interview that Person B proposed.

Assuming you've only been dealing with one person the whole time, if I were to guess, I'd say that, unfortunately, the first message proposing an interview was a mistake on Person B's part.  It could just be that Person B thought they were responding to another candidate.  Then, when they got your message, not realizing they invited you for an interview, they thought you were just being pushy, thus the less than polite message saying you weren't shortlisted.

Here's the thing, though.  If this is the case, it's actually a good thing that the mistake happened.  You still have an opening - a very small one, but one nonetheless.  Some people might decide to interview you anyway, because they initially offered.  Others might wonder why they didn't shortlist you in the first place and take another look at your application.  Some might decide that by not just slinking off when rejected, you are now more attractive as a candidate.  Someone demonstrating motivation is huge.

So, in this situation, you need to be graceful, professional and strong.  You have to be polite, but you have to show determination and confidence.  Too many "thank you's"  could make you look too mushy.  That's why I would only thank the person at the end of the email.

Also, since the odds are against you in this, you don't have a lot to lose.  This is probably you're one shot to get back in the game, so write something that emotes, "I'm a damned good candidate, and you want to interview me.  You don't want to pass me over."  Strength and confidence - tempered by proper manners - is the best way to do this.

Returning to the original possible scenario (that you were dealing with multiple people and the error was an organizational error by the church), you needn't (and shouldn't) be quite as bold.  In that case, you've got a better chance because at least one person is on your side.  You can act a little (but only a little) more reconciled to the rejection, because you might have someone on the other side to fight your cause for you.  That's why I would thank the person for the response at the beginning of the email and thank them for their time at the end.  This approach is less all-or-nothing.

Does this help?  Feel free to send me some more specifics of the situation and I can try to tailor my advice. 

(By the way, my friend is eminently qualified for this job, and I am certain she would be an excellent hire.  The organization is probably making a mistake by not giving her an interview.  Not that I'm biased or anything.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

I [Heart] Union Square Ventures

They're hiring.  And they know how to write a job ad:
It's Spring in New York. The pear trees and magnolias are in full bloom and everyone on the street is smiling, reminded again of irrepressible rhythm of the seasons.

That's the good news. The bad news is that another rhythm that shapes our lives at Union Square Ventures has also come full circle. A little over a week ago Fred announced that Andrew was following his fiancé to Boston where she will complete her medical training. Eric Friedman is also coming to the end of his two year stint as an analyst here and moving on to Foursquare. The three of us are staring at the possibility of being on our own this summer. In some ways that is not all bad. We have always believed in building a partner driven firm, where we all do our own work and can fully represent the firm to the outside world. On the other hand, Andrew and Eric have done a fabulous job finding holes and filling them and I, for one, am worried about running out of fingers to put in the dike when they leave.

So we are hiring.


We are not flexible when it comes to cultural fit. We are a small team in a small office and it is very important to us that the candidates for these positions share our conviction about the transformational potential of the web. They should also be prepared to forcefully defend thoughtful positions on potential investments, but to also consider carefully the positions of others and to be intellectually honest and open to persuasion.

Perhaps most importantly, the successful candidates for these positions will be "net native". They will use web services in their personal and professional lives. They will ideally have an intuitive feel for what works and what doesn't on the web. We assume that they will have a web presence, whether that is a profile on a social network site, a photo stream, an academic paper on social media, a blog or tumblelog, a lead role in an open source project, a reputation on Stack Exchange, or a spot on the leader board in Mafia Wars.


Don't upload a resume. Instead, share your LinkedIn profile and use the "cover letter" to provide links to your web presence plus a way to reach you. We can't promise to respond to every inquiry, but you can be sure that if the links you share show off your contributions to the web, we will get in touch.

By the way, we are not prudes. We expect your web presence to represent who you are, not who you think an employer wishes you were, so don't waste a lot of time sanitizing your web presence before sending us there. It will just confuse your friends.

We look forward to comments on this post, including suggestions about the roles, the qualifications and the process!

And it is, essentially, a blog post.  This is awesome.

To be sure, this is not the sort of advertisement that just any company can post.  This is not going to fit the corporate culture of every firm, and the demands it represents are not going to properly attract the type of candidate every firm needs.

It's still great.

It's great because it's fairly unique.  It's great because it's honest.  It's great because it breaks so many rules, it's pretty forward thinking, and it reflects the nature of the company.  That final one is probably the most important.  I always tell job seekers that they need to have a strategy when conducting their search, in order to find the job that's right for them.  Well, we recruiters need a strategy, too.

And isn't it fantastic that they've told people not to sanitize their web presence?  We're all on the net all the time, it seems, and if you're going to be hiring someone under the age of 30, you better expect that they've cultivated a full and open online persona.  Personally, I've contributed work to a variety of web sites.  I have written about sports; I have interviewed politicians; and I have written about recruiting.  I'm on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Plaxo, Naymz and MySpace... sometimes multiple times.  I can't, completely, hide my web presence.

This is the world we're getting into.  This is a world where more and more of our lives are going to be public.  Where people used to go to extremes to hide their "real" identity online, we now trade pictures of our kids, argue openly about politics and trumpet our religious allegiances.  Employers will still Google us, but, more and more, employers will know that this candid picture is just that, candid.  We'll each have one, and it will be more extensive, more honest.  And we will be judged by it less and less.

(H/T: Fred Wilson.)

Slow Dance on the Outside: Unemployment and Career Change

It's not great out there, as anyone looking for a job will likely confirm.  Employment is on the rise (slowly), but unemployment was stable at 8.2% for the month of March (yes, that might seem a little odd, but to economists, employment is not merely 1/unemployment).

As part of my job, I meet with lots of people who are out of work.  These are people who have contacted me about a specific job opportunity, people I have met at seminars and training sessions, and people who are contacting ant recruiter they can to find job leads and advice.  Some people have been out of work for a few days, some a few weeks.  Others have been searching for months or years.  Some people have a regular tour that brings them back into work-life semi-regularly: the monthly check-ins, the seasonal job fairs, etc.

I've always told people that one of my favourite aspects of recruiting is that it is my job to get people jobs.  When I can help - either with a job offer or with advice - I do.  I don't treat my insights into the local job market as some sort of proprietary treasure; sure, I use it in the execution of my duties, but it's a public good.  Giving it to someone else robs me of no utility.

Unfortunately, there are some people whom it is quite difficult to help.  They have antiquated skills.  Their absence from the workforce can be measured in years.  Sometimes, they've been beaten down by their prolonged job search and they're not the dynamic candidate they used to be.

This is where things get hard.  This is when the sad nature of the employment industry emerges.  There comes a time when there is no more advice that you can give a candidate.  The person has already re-vamped their resume.  They have a targeted, focused, intricate job search methodology.  They treat finding a job as their full time job, putting in nights and weekends to finally add that next item to the Work Experience section of their resume.  These people are earnest in their search, and lacking no zeal.  Unfortunately, their field may have passed them by.

I work, for the most part, in IT.  I find people for web development projects, Information Management, network architecture, and a host of other IT-related jobs.  This is not a field you can just hop in and out of at whim.  If you disappear for any length of time, the demands and the standards of the industry will be beyond your sight.  Your skills will have atrophied.

There comes a time when we, as recruiters, will have to tell you that, in all likelihood, you no longer have a future in your chosen field.  It's tough for us to say, but we say it to be helpful.  Dishonest optimism will be of no service to you.

If you have been out of the IT industry for more than a year or two, your skills are, likely, outdated or rusty.  In this situation, you will not be a fit for any jobs that require any sort of hands-on work.  There are a lot of people out there who have only recently lost their job, and whose skills are up to date.  They will have an edge over you.

If you worked for one company for many years or decades, and this company, which was once cutting edge, is now a lumbering, dying dinosaur (*cough* Nortel *cough*), your skills - no matter how recently you used them - could very well be outdated.  If you specialize in a fading technology, your chances of success in landing a new job are dim.

So, when I meet you, and you're wondering about what you should do, I'll give you some advice.  You can take; you can ignore it; but know that I'm giving you an honest assessment.  It may be time for a change.  This could mean a career change (someone who used to work in web development can sometimes slip into technical recruiting - just ask this guy).  This could mean going back to school to learn new skills.  It could mean starting over at the bottom wrung as a junior employee.  It could mean moving to a new city.

But if you've been looking for a job for two years with no success, something has to change.  Something drastic.

Congrats to Procom

Technical Recruiter for Procom (and friend of JMR), Tom Sweeney, announces some great news for Procom Consulting Group:

Branham Group published its annual Branham 300 List today and Procom was recognized as a leader in its industry for another consecutive year.

On the list announced today, Procom was named 6 on the list of the Top 25 It Professional Services Companies and 22 on the list of the Top 250 Canadian Tech Companies, taking the number one spot amongst its competitors.

Published annually in Backbone Magazine and circulated in the National Post, the Branham 300 List recognizes Canada’s best performing Information Technology firms. The rankings, which are based on revenue growth, recognize Canadian IT firms for their strong performance and industry leadership. It is considered one of the premier industry performance metrics.

“Recognition by Branham is a significant honour” says Procom’s President & CEO Frank McCrea. “We believe that our commitment to integrity, flexibility and responsiveness has created a strong foundation upon which our company is built and it is this strong foundation that allows Procom to leverage its core competencies and experience continued growth.”

Procom – Procom Consultants Group is a leading IT Staffing & Project Solutions firm in North America and for 4 consecutive years has been named one of the 50 Best Managed Companies in Canada. Procom has 12 office locations, over 2800 IT Consultants and is responsible for the delivery of hundreds of IT projects annually. Procom offers its clients customized services in IT Staffing, Payroll Administration, and IT Project Solutions.

For more information visit: or
Congrats to Tom and the rest of the team at Procom on this great achievement.

And don't forget to visit Tom's blog.

Career Seminars

I will be leading some career seminars this week at the downtown branch of the Ottawa Public Library.  Here's the schedule:

Tuesday April 13 @ 6:30 pm
Searching for a Job on the Internet

Wednesday April 14 @ 6:30 pm
Resume and Cover Letter Writing

Thursday April 14 @ 6:30 pm
The Job Interview

The Main Branch of the library is located at 120 Metcalfe St.

Registration is required (for each event).  You can register here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Speaking of Personal Branding...

My mechanic's name is Otto.  How great is that?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Management by Raising Your Voice

Ever been yelled at?  Ever been yelled at by a boss?  It kinda sucks, doesn't it?

Over the course of my career, I've had, probably, about two dozen people who would have called me a supervisor.  I don't think I ever raised my voice to any of them.  Well, maybe a little, but I certainly have never yelled at an employee.

The other day, my entire team got yelled at.  Our boss wasn't happy with the results we were getting, and he wasn't pleased with our plans to improve our results.  He listened to us for quite a while, and, eventually, got fed up.  He blasted us.

This is a man who, generally, speaks at a rather quiet and relaxed manner.  He's generally content to allow others to lead the discussion, just throwing in some advice and guidance here and there.  He likes to motivate his team, but he is neither the fire-and-brimstone type preacher, nor an Anthony Robbins-esque motivational guru.  Quietly, he tries to instill confidence and comfort, allowing his team to go about their work self-assuredly.

But the other day, that demeanour was momentarily abandoned.  He was angry; he was pounding the table; and he was right.

Not everyone can get away with this sort of behaviour.  The reason he could is that he has, for years, earned our respect and treated us with respect.  His anger was neither malicious nor denigrating.  A manager who clearly articulates his team's expectations and affords them the necessary resources to meet those expectations has earned the right to raise his voice.

It can be tempting for managers to yell at their employees.  It's an easy tool to which to resort in an attempt to motivate.  However, there is a lot of work a manager must do before this can be effective.

You have to earn the right to yell at people.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bill 139 Complicated: Tax Edition

A while back, I wrote a (not-so-quick) post on Bill 139, Ontario's new-ish legislation that extends the protections of the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to temporary workers.  I don't have a lot to add right now (nor the time to do it), but a new wrinkle has come our way.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has their own thoughts on the matter of when an independent consultant becomes an employee, and thus, when they will be taxed as such, when they will have to contribute to EI and CPP, and when a company will be required to withhold taxes and contribute to EI and CPP.  Like the Ministry of Labour, CRA isn't too specific about what constitutes an employee vs. what constitutes an independent contractor.  Thankfully, they are more specific the Ministry.  Further, they take into account the intent of both the consultant and the firm, something conspicuously absent from the information released by the Ministry of Labour.

From what information I have received, it seems that with Bill 139 there will be an inquiry only if one party complains.  Which means that as long as a firm and their consultants are happy, no one will be bothered.  However, it's a different beast with the CRA.  They can launch an investigation without prompting, and they have a financial incentive to find people to be employees.

As well, there's no way to know what implications a CRA finding will have on a Ministry of Labour classification, or vice versa.

So far, we've never had an issue, but there's no way to know how long that will last.

You can read about the CRA's discernment process here (pdf).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

There Might Be a Reason We Seem Distracted

Ask A Manager has a new post up about showing confidence in your job search.  In general, it's great advice, and there are some specific tidbits that should prove helpful for those looking for work.

A couple of commenters to the post have brought up an interesting subject.  An anonymous commenter writes:
I wish this had been written earlier. As interesting as the personal stories are on here, it also helps to hear general advice.

However, I would like to see something added on to here: When does being assertive cross the line?

Why? There have been times in an interview where I wanted to point out something to the interviewer that I felt was wrong, but I kept my mouth shut. I've been on a couple of interviews that were interrupted or the interviewer was distracted. I wanted to say "hey, I'm over here speaking." But to me, that would've been the wrong thing to say and consequently not get me the job (which I didn't get anyway).
In response, reader a.e. writes:

Anon, I totally relate! I am a rather confident person, I would think, but I have definitely been in an interview and the other person is checking email, is reviewing some other material, taking 5+ min calls, etc. Good times! I always struggle with what to do. I have tried the, "would there be a better time to re-schedule this because you seem to have a lot on your plate right now", but that doesn't make a lot of sense when you traveled especially for the interview. Anyway, like I mentioned, I have been out of work for over a year and a half so its not as if I can say I have found a strategy that works particularly well.
Alright, a couple of things: 1.) No, you should not offer to re-schedule and imply that the interviewer isn't doing his job properly; and, 2.) No, you shouldn't even think about saying, 'hey, I'm over here speaking.'*  Really, do either of those seem like a worthwhile course of action?

Though it is true that the interviewer might just be a jerk, there is the distinct possibility that something else is going on.  First, and most straightforward, the interview might just be busy.  He might be busy because he is understaffed.  He might be busy because of the very reason that you are sitting opposite him; he needs to hire somebody.  Rather than allowing your hackles be raised, just do your best to demonstrate why you'd be a good fit for the job, why you would lessen this burden.

There is another possible explanation.  This could be a stress interview.  The interviewer could be doing his best to get a rise out of you.  He could be trying to see how you respond under pressure or in the presence of rudeness.  In such a situation, he wants to see you phased.  Don't give in.  It doesn't matter how many interruptions, seemingly useless questions or barbs you have to endure.  Take it all; let it roll off your back; keep answering questions.  Interviewing may not be a game, but that doesn't mean you can't win.

As an aside, I used to conduct some interviews as if I was ill prepared.  I'd jump around the resume, asking about school, then work experience, then volunteering, then back to work experience.  I would do this for two reasons.  First, I didn't want people to get too comfortable answering the questions, and just walk them through their resume.  By jumping around, I would try to break them of the preparation they had done for the interview so that I could see the real person.  Sometimes, people would let the guard down so much, they would tell me things that they would never usually dream of telling someone in an interview (I once had a candidate tell me that he generally had a problem following orders, and never had any respect for any of the bosses for whom he had worked previously).

I would also do this to see how they would react.  If someone was quick to get in a huff the first time something didn't seem to go quite as they would prefer, I knew that was someone that I probably wouldn't want to hire.

I don't do this anymore, it's not really appropriate for my current job, but if I ever went back to my old job, I'd probably dust this little chestnut off.  I found it worked quite well.

*Okay, as an interviewee, if you are inclined to yell at people and tell them that they have to do what you consider important, please do let me know during the interview.  Terminations are never fun.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Entering the Lion's Den

On Thursday, I will be leading yet another seminar.  This one might be the most difficult of all, as I will be speaking to a group of...

High School Students!  (Gasp)

My company is taking on a co-op student this term, and the co-op teacher and I have decided that I will come in to their class for one afternoon to talk about interview skills and how not to lose a job once you get it (a skill many people need to learn... and one that the teacher thinks will be quite useful for her students).

It should be interesting.  I've presented to professionals, peers, and university and college students, but never have I ventured into a high school.

We'll see how this goes.

Brainhunter Purchased by Zylog (Yeah, I'd never heard of them before, either.)

Here's the skinny:
Chennai-based technology integrator Zylog has announced the acquisition of Canadian IT consulting and engineering staffing services Brainhunter for C$35 million to expand its footprint in Canada.

The acquisition came through a bidding process for Brainhunter under the Canadian Creditors Arrangement Act in which Zylog put in the winning bid.

Brainhunter has a major presence in government, telecom, BFSI, and oil and pipeline verticals. The rationale and strategic fitment of this acquisition is given below.

Zylog will gain from Brainhunter's ready access to a large talent pool, its over 1400 contractors and more than 400 diversified customer base with extensive preferred vendor relationship and a ready technology platform.

Tha acquisition would enable the two Zylog the potential to save costs on account of offshoring of contracts, sourcing contractors from India for non government businesses and reduction in non-billable staff.

after [sic] the closure of the transaction, Zylog plans to delist Brainhunter.
I don't have any strong feelings about this one way or another, nor am I sufficiently versed in the operations of Brainhunter to pass any judgements on the purchase. However, if this is going to keep Brainhunter's staff employed, then I'm all for it.

At the time of posting, Brainhunter's web site made no mention of the purchase.

Monday, January 25, 2010

In Praise of Pedantry

I just returned from a seminar on proposal writing, and something that was mentioned really didn't sit right with me.  Our presenter, who has significant qualifications, mentioned that spelling and grammar are important, but not that important.  Further, he suggested that you didn't need someone to proofread your proposal.  In his words, 'if it sound right to you, it's fine.'

Sadly, that is not fine, so I must object.

Now, I'm a little pedantic.  How pedantic?  Well, I use the word, pedantry.  Be that as it may, there is a valid case for employing proper grammar and syntax... even for you non-pedants out there.  Basically, the reason we have these rules of usage is so that everyone understands the meaning of each other's words.  Language can be quite ambiguous.  We rely on these rules to ensure that other people understand that which we write or say.  It is not enough that you understand the meaning; to adapt a phrase, it must sound right to your audience.

There's a Murphy's Law-esque phenomenon that afflicts many writers; it suggests that whenever you write a blog post correcting someone's grammar, you are destined to commit, at minimum, one grammatical faux pas.  Thus, I fully expect that there is some sort of mistake in this post.

And I will take such a mistake as further support for my argument.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Mathematics of the Familial Millstone

Evil HR Lady has an interesting letter from a reader seeking insight into a hiring decision her employer recently made.  It seems there was a candidate that should have been hired but wasn't.  It seems that she wasn't hired because her sister used to work for the company and left on bad terms.  It seems that there could have been no other reason not to give this person a job offer.

'Seems' is an interesting word.  It's a great way to kick off an investigation, but a lousy way to conclude one.

Here's what EHRL said (in part):
That said, unless you were in on the hiring discussions you can't know for sure that this happened. Why did they bring her in for an interview if they weren't going to hire her, based on her relative? That makes absolutely no sense. If they refused to interview her, the relationship could have been behind that, but have you checked the unemployment rates lately? Honestly, if I had 300 candidate resumes (not unusual lately) and one was the sister of the psychopath we had to fire two years ago, I wouldn't put her as my top choice unless her qualifications were so phenomenally above the other 299 people.

And that's my point right there: Yeah, it's possible that her relationship hurt her, but there are so many people for each available job that it's not likely the only reason.
Makes a lot of sense (as is to be expected from EHRL).  However, I do not think EHRL went quite far enough.  Sometimes, your personal and familial relationships are sufficient cause for not receiving a job offer (or in a situation I've seen, losing your job).  It is completely, utterly, 100% unfair to the candidate.

But it'd be completely, utterly, 100% unfair to those doing the hiring to force them to be blind to everything but a person's resume.

There's an old trope about, well, pretty much everything, but it gets applied to recruiting from time to time: recruiting isn't a science; it's an art.  Unfortunately, that's wrong.  It's neither; recruiting is, at times, mathematics.   It's risk/reward; it's balancing probabilities; it's playing the odds.  It's constructing an intangible metric that will maximize the probability that you will produce successful hires.  You can't do that by merely going through a checklist.

When constructing a team, ability, skills and experience are only part of the calculus.  One must take into account the dynamics of the working environment.  You've got to figure out if this new person will be a fit.  Employees do not always function rationally.  Their emotions guide them, and their productivity can be affected by endogenous and exogenous variables, tangible or not.  If an employee's relative holds a grudge against the company, it's not preposterous to imagine it could have a negative impact on the employee's productivity.  Further, it's not preposterous to think it could have a negative impact on the mood of the team, detracting from the productivity of the team as a whole.

Certainly, there's no guarantee that such an outcome would occur, but 'there's no guarantee that I will destroy the culture of your office' or 'it's possible that I won't be a huge distraction at work'  are not valid reasons to hire anyone.  As EHRL eludes to in her post, with two satisfactory candidates of similar experience and ability, why take the one that could become the office cancer.

As I mentioned, I have known people in this type of situation.  It sucks; it really does.  Judged solely through the eyes of the jilted candidate (who knows that she'd be a great employee and that there'd be no taint from a disgruntled relative) this is an egregious wrong.  However, if we take away the certainty of it - and the hiring process is riddled with uncertainties - no longer does the hiring manager seem like such an ogre.  If we step back, we see that the manager is just a person trying to deal with the imperfections of life.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Case for (Seemingly) Unfounded Optimism

A little over a week ago, a contract opportunity came out from a government agency.  For a whole host of reasons, we didn't think we had much of a shot (short response time, some ultra-specific requirements, experienced competition, etc).  Nonetheless, we did our due diligence, and we contacted probably 20 to 30 consultants.  Of that, only three thought they would meet all the criteria for which our client was asking.  And even then, one of them removed himself from contention just a few hours later.

So, I was down to two.  Both were experienced, solid candidates, with whom we had previously worked.  Eventually, we settled on one candidate to represent.  We'd been given a handful of days to generate a proposal and time was slowly fading away on us.

Even our candidate had the same reservations about the viability of this opportunity.  Nonetheless, like us, he decided to take a shot.

I knew - knew - that we weren't going to get this.  I also knew that our candidate could do the job and could meet all the requirements.  There was no internal conflict; these thoughts were completely reconcilable.  Unfortunately, the reconciliation was obvious.  The optimism could not win out.

The IT consulting market in Ottawa has been pretty dead for the past year.  We have seen fewer and fewer opportunities, and more and more consultants desperate for work.  Prices for consultants dropped rapidly, with senior consultants taking rates that intermediate consultants may have balked at in 2008.  Firms are slashing mark ups; no more is the much sought after 18% to 20% margin realistic.  Competition brought on by a buyer's market has brought everyone's expectations to Death Valley-like levels.  Optimism is in short supply.

Had the market been better, optimism would have been an abundant commodity.  The most public of public goods, it would have been for all and for as much as anyone desired.

Time ran out on me for this proposal.  I worked with our candidate.  We covered all the requirements and ensured that he was satisfactory.  We began building and formatting the proposal.  But time was scarce.  We'd been given so little time to respond that any snags were giant setbacks.  We approached the deadline and there was much more that I wanted to do to make the proposal perfect.  Don't get me wrong, it was fine; it was satisfactory.  I wanted it to be perfect.  (Did I mention the state of the market?)

Had the market been better, we'd have had no worry about this opportunity.  Upon seeing all the challenges and disincentives to respond, we would have disregarded this request, instead working on requests from other clients - requests that seemed viable.

Had the market been better, we never would have won this contract.  Score one for the contrarian case for optimism.

Labour Board Karma*

A few months ago, I mentioned that one of our former employees launched a complaint against us with the Ministry of Labour (yet still thought it wise to come visit us and pretend like everything was just fine).  I won't get into the specifics of the case, but this employee was let go for cause.  There's really no way an impartial juror could think otherwise.  Nonetheless, we didn't want to take any chances, and we knew that our former employee made a very sympathetic figure.

Consequently, I spent weeks preparing our case.  I went through email logs, financial records, computer files and personnel files.  It took quite a while, but I was able to present the labour board with a response that consisted of, approximately, 80 pages.  Through her complaint, among other issues, the former employee had put a tremendous administrative strain on our office.  No ethereal form of justice could possibly allow a finding against us.

Today we received a response.  Justice, you'll be happy to know, is alive and well.

*And, yes, before Mrs. JMR, a student of theology, objects, I know that this is totally not what Karma is.  I just wanted a title.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Unfolding Mystery of the ESA: Bill 139

Temporary Help.

Say it.  Say it so many times that it has lost all meaning.  Say it until the permanence of opacity.  Say it one more time.  Now you know the effect of Bill 139 on the consulting industry.

I don't mean that to be flippant or derogatory; I just mean that this bill has been passed with very poor definitions.  In certain situations, the meaning is clear.  If you run a temp agency, the bill applies; if you run a consulting agency, well, then maybe it applies, depending on a four test common law application, depending on the integration, dependency, control, appearance, whether we apply Sagaz or Re Becker Milk Co... (mumbles and trails off incoherently).

Okay, to begin with, a quick background.  Bill 139 attempts to give temporary workers the same rights and protections afforded by law to permanent employees.  This means such things as receiving holiday pay, vacation pay and notice of termination (or payment in lieu).  It also means that after six months, the temporary help agency cannot prevent the client from hiring the temporary worker as a permanent employee.  So far, so good.  Well, one could rightfully debate the merit of the bill, but I think we all get the basic idea: temps need protection from exploitation (that's the non-cynical explanation and, for the purposes of this post, I'm going to run with it).

The problem comes with firms, like my current employer, who are not really temporary help agencies.  We are not body shops that farm out desperate low-skilled workers.  We do not trade in what is the generally perceived definition of a temp.  We trade in the services of highly skilled (and deservedly highly paid) professionals.

Unfortunately, it is unclear if Bill 139 makes such a distinction (though, for some reason, it makes an explicit exception for home-care professionals... I have no idea why).  It could be that this new law will make all or most consultants employees.  Unfortunately, there is no way to know this.  Neither the ESA nor the Ministry of Labour is willing to make a definitive statement as to what constitutes an employee.  To a certain extent, this is understandable.  Employment and work dynamics are changing so much these days that rules that had been in place for decades may no longer be applicable.  Attempting to define 'employees' may be near impossible.

In Ontario's common law, there are numerous tests and criteria that are laid out to make such a determination.  Unfortunately, none of the tests are considered definitive and the list of criteria is not considered to be exhaustive.  The common law does not give appropriate guidance to firms and consultants.  Worse yet, Bill 139 seems to be, at least in part, an attempt to codify the common law.  Institutionalized Uncertainty:  it's all the rage at Queen's Park this season.

One blog post is not sufficient space to fully explore all the issues surrounding Bill 139, but I will leave you with one final thought:  The Ministry of Labour has responded to an inquiry I made about the nature of employment of an independent consultant; an agent of the Ministry wrote, "[s]uch a ruling can only be made by an Employment Standards Officer following an investigation into a complaint, by an arbitrator when a grievance has been filed by an employee..."

So, the only way to determine if a consultant is an employee is to lose a complaint lodged against you through the Ministry of Labour.  For those companies who wish to abide by the law, this is of little comfort.

Stay tuned...

Monday, January 18, 2010

I Really Should See this Movie

These days, I don't have a lot of time to pay attention to what movies are playing.  Mrs. JMR and I have a lot of other commitments, and, generally, those things we do for fun are going to be toddler-appropriate.  Consequently, I didn't pay much attention when the recent George Clooney flick, Up In The Air, was released.  It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I learned that it was about something near and dear to my heart, sacking people.

From what I've read, it's a quirky movie that's more about human connections than employee terminations (and understandably so).  And, apparently, it's pretty good, having just won the Golden Globe for best screenplay, and employing (no pun intended) one of the more amiable actors working today.  Aside from all this, I'm interested to see how they deal with someone who's job it is to terminate people.  It's been my experience that there is a general misunderstanding of the realm of employee terminations.  I have been involved in the terminations of probably 20 to 30 people - certainly not a lot, but enough to gain a little insight into process.

Conducting terminations isn't easy, and it certainly isn't for everyone.  It requires a seemingly paradoxical mix of empathy, detachment and the possession of a thick skin.  To be properly motivated, one has to keep in mind the big picture, the fact that properly conducted terminations positively affect the workings of the company; to be efficient and effective, one has to remained focus on the narrowly-defined issues at hand, not allowing the employee to derail the process.

In the past, I have willingly taken on the role of terminating employees.  I have done this because I was confident that I could handle the situation with tact, ensuring a respectful termination for the employee while also safeguarding the interests of the company.  In fact, I'd be willing to have an Up In The Air-type job.  I would have no problem being employed to terminate people... as long as I was also able to guide the company in their processes that lead to termination.  Properly employed, such processes should benefit everyone at the company.  They should lead to fewer terminations, and that's what every company should want.

So, maybe, in the coming months I'll watch the movie.  And maybe I'll start a new feature at JMR, movie reviews.