Monday, August 27, 2012

A very tough question for the future of 'work'.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

Picture the scene. It’s Monday morning, about 8.20am and I’m sitting having a latte in Starbucks.  iPad in hand, I’m surfing for news that might make a good blog topic. I’ve got LinkedIn open as usual, and I’m looking to see what messages I have back about last week’s blog;  I reply to a couple of people with suggestions.

An old friend contacts me with a LinkedIn e-mail to ask if I’ve got any work for him at the moment. I tell him maybe, and  I’ll keep in touch. We swap another message asking about wives, children and football season. I start thinking about how I might be able to use him – good guy and we’re very busy. I make a note to fire an e-mail to the COO later.

10.00pm at the hotel desk. Working? Relaxing? Who knows any more?
I answer an incoming Outlook invitation for a meeting tomorrow lunchtime, and I approve an expense claim for one of my staff.

Then I’m back to reading the news on Google. Opportunities for Automotive jobs in Michigan are on the rise; salaries are also rising. We have significant interests in the Detroit engineering jobs market, so I’m thinking we might see some growth out there soon. Could be a blog topic, but maybe a bit dry. Boris Johnson (Mayor of London) is calling people who work at home ‘skivers’, the British slang for slacking off. That’s interesting, but reading the whole article I’m amused to find that my friend Dave who runs a part time recruiting firm in London has beaten me to it. He’s quoted in the article. Good for him I think, and I open up Facebook to send him a message saying well done. While I’m there I look at some wall posts and like a picture of my friend at the Zoo.

That’s when I decide what this week’s blog topic will be. It’s 8.45am now and I usually head into the office about this time. I drain my coffee, exchange pleasantries for a couple of minutes with Chris behind the counter (he has a new daughter and looks exhausted), I tell him he should try coffee, and I head out the door.

My question to you is simply this… from 8.20am to 8.50am this morning… was I working?

The traditional view prevalent in everyone from the baby boomers to the upper end of Generation X would be absolutely not. I’m not in the office; I’m not focusing; I’ve chatted to two of my friends online and one more in person about wholly unrelated things. I’m in a coffee shop for heaven’s sake. I simply am not at my desk, at my computer ‘working’. No deadlines have been met. No money has been made.

Not so, cry Generation Y. Many of them would argue the opposite. An important part of my job is to coordinate our social media activities, to engage the tens of thousands of people who read our blogs and to have interesting things to say. I have that covered now.  It’s also my job to staff the department here and I’ve uncovered an opportunity to maybe bring someone on board who can help. I’ve networked with a friend in the industry – and that has certainly yielded a return on investment before. I’ve been immediately accessible to my colleagues in accepting the Outlook invitation and I’ve actioned the expense approval with no delays. How could you possibly describe this as anything other than working. When I was at the bar yesterday afternoon watching the ballgame with a cold beer and my phone off – then I wasn’t working. This morning I was working. Clear as day.

Was I working but allowing myself to be distracted? Maybe, but even the social distractions had professional aspects.

Even now, in describing it, I’m personally not sure. I don’t usually start work until about 9.00am, so I could argue that all of this was done while I technically wasn’t being paid. But I have the standard working hours of a senior level person in any business, i.e. comfortably over the 40 hour week I get paid for, with weekends and late sessions a weekly occurrence, but without the daily oversight that cares where I am hour to hour. 

I may not be working when I ‘like’ my friend’s holiday snaps. But I wasn’t ‘not working’ on Sunday when I left dinner, under icy glares from my wife, to reply to a colleague’s urgent e-mail.

The modern workplace has no edges. Technology, social conventions, international time zones and professional diligence have taken the idea of a quantifiable working week and thrown it out the window. Generation Y are highly aware of this. How will anybody manage expectation in this environment?

With no means to measure (or even really understand) ‘input’ any more (working hours, time in the office etc..) we have to shift to judging performance on the achievement of measurable goals.

What we deliver matters far more than the manner in which we choose to deliver it. That’s why entrepreneurs don’t have working hours. Nobody asks a spin doctor how many hours they put into their candidate’s campaign. Nobody asks the head coach of the Houston Texans how many hours he works every week. Did the candidate win? Did the team make the playoffs?

It’s time to finally usher in the output era. It will be tough for a lot of business leaders to let go of the old fashioned management devices. But let go they must. The world belongs increasingly to Generation Y. Those of us who are longer of tooth need to have the humility to realize what this will mean to the way we work and the wisdom to see what the benefits for us could be.

Views expressed are those of the individual and not Talascend LLC. 

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering staffing and global engineering jobs.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Are you killing Linkedin?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

For me, LinkedIn is becoming less effective as a networking tool every day.

I've loved LinkedIn for years. I was a ground floor user and a big exponent of the idea. But now I have a major issue. Stop me if you’ve experienced this hypothetical situation before.  I see a contact to whom I’d really like an introduction, and I notice that one of my connections – someone I used to work with – is connected to them. Great I think. I can get an introduction, I think. So I contact my friend and I say ‘Hey, can you introduce me to Jane Smith at ABC Ltd? I’d really like to pitch something to her.’

My friend sounds blank at the end of the phone and says ‘Who’s that?’

LinkedIn is a networking tool. That’s the central idea. So I’m forced to ask – what use is a network where nobody knows anyone?

The race to 500+ connections, seen by some people as important to their LinkedIn status has created a culture of accepting people we barely know, met briefly or don’t know at all.

If you’re not able to sustain a functional acquaintance with someone – and acquaintance is fine, they don’t need to have walked you down the aisle, or sold a start-up with you – then you should expunge them from your network.

It’s time to see LinkedIn the same way that most of us see Facebook. Who really wants the latest update from that person you met at that party two years ago who you never spoke to afterwards? Remove Friend; because only a fool would sacrifice the functionality of Facebook because they wanted to be seen to have more friends. So why do we not take the same approach on LinkedIn? Are we really so desperate to seem well connected in theory that we’re prepared to compromise the usefulness of a tool that could lead to us being well connected in practice?

There’s a guy called Adrian Dunbar who’s a professor of Anthropology at Oxford University - which probably makes him smarter than me - who says that the human brain can only constructively sustain 150 relationships, whether it’s online or offline. Just 150. Personally I don’t know how anyone can handle even that many, but when I think about it, I guess it’s feasible. If I add up all my family and the people I still talk to and keep up with, even if infrequently, I can get to that number.

I cannot get to 965.

Nor can you. If you have 965 LinkedIn connections you are surely wasting your time. And if I contact you to try to network with you, you’ll be wasting my time too, because there’s now a one in eight chance that you’re going to know the person I’m calling you about. How does that make us all look? Smart? Well connected? Or, as my friends working engineering jobs in Houston say, dumber than a bag of wet mice?

Clear out your LinkedIn profile. Get down below that 500 number to something you can realistically use. Imagine a LinkedIn timeline that wasn’t full to the brim of trash you didn’t care about. Imagine if it was only updates from people whose business interests interested you. Think of the interesting calls you could make. Think of the networking you could do and the introductions you could affect. That’s not social networking, that’s networking and the more of that you do, the better you'll be at your job and the more money you’ll make.

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering staffing and skilled labor jobs. For more details about Talascend and engineering staffing, visit our website. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Skilled labor jobs, and the other greatest myths of Olympic economics

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong it seems. In fact, as far as long term economic benefits go, the Olympics are a game not worth playing. Here are the five myths that most need debunking when it comes to lighting that eternal flame. 

1.      You’ll make the money back in tourism during the games

No you won’t. Mostly the tourists are coming anyway. They will simply change the timing of their visit to coincide with the games. Mable and Homer Tourbender from Rhode Island are going to go to London to see Buckingham Palace and meet Mary Poppins anyway. Now they’re going to do it while the games are on. They’re not going to make two visits. They were always going to make one visit. The net result – zero. What's more, the vast majority of attendees are your own locals, taking advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime. 

2.      OK, you’ll make the money back over the next few years in tourists

Been to a lot of professional synchronized swimming?
Photo: Tatiana Morozova /
Sounds logical. Trouble is it turns out there’s a huge amount of empirical evidence that points to the contrary. Studies of twin cities (cities nearby that are comparable to the host city in every respect other than hosting the games) suggest that the host city enjoys no greater increase in any trend afterwards.  Melbourne faired no worse than Sydney; Charlotte faired no worse than Atlanta. The only difference was the enormous bill that the twin city never had to pay.

3.      Local expenditure means local economic benefits

Yes OK, but beware the assumption that all the money spent locally is actually local. So you bought a product made in China and owned by a company head quartered in New York. How much is that really benefitting Atlanta? It’s not the $40 value of the sweatshirt, it’s the relatively small margin the shopkeeper is making. This applies to everything.

4.      You get all the new infrastructure to use in the future – that’s good right?

It is if you use it, yes. But exactly how valuable are the additional sporting facilities that you’re building?  Given that – rather obviously in all fairness – you didn’t need any of them enough to build them before you became an Olympic city, why will you need them afterward? Please see the Birds Nest in China (the birds have flown) or the many venues in Athens (that will soon resemble the Parthenon.)

There are sporting arguments that these facilities foster the future of non-central sports. For example, there are those who attribute the success of Britain’s gold medal (and Tour de France) winning cycling team to the development of major cycling facilities in Manchester ahead of the hosting of the Commonwealth games there in 2002. A case of ‘build it, they will come’? Maybe so, but just because there’s a sporting benefit, doesn’t mean there’s an economic one. All those sporting clubs and hopeful kids that spring up around your new velodrome aren’t paying you for it, and the cluster of people who come to watch aren’t filling the stadium for £100 a time once a week, which is what you need if you’re going to pay for it.   

5.      It creates a lot of skilled labor jobs during the infrastructure process

This, as you might expect, is my favorite one. You create  skilled labor jobs during the infrastructure process. And skilled labor jobs – mostly engineering jobs – don’t create jobs for the unemployed. They create new job options for those already employed. If you’re going to build a velodrome you need experienced welders, mechanics and design engineers. All of these guys are already working. What you’re actually doing is affecting local projects that were employing these people by encouraging them to leave those engineering jobs to join the higher profile Olympic jobs. As for the temporary Olympic jobs – security or administration at the games – they’ll all be gone as soon as the athletes are.

So here’s the bottom line. If you’re going to bid for the games, make sure you lose. There’s reasonable evidence to suggest that those who put out convincing $100m bids for the games actually get much better value for their money. They get the exposure of being associated with the Olympic brand, but they don’t actually have to build a planet sized swimming facility, which turns out to have all the long term value of… well, of a velodrome. 

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering staffing and skilled labor jobs