Showing posts with label talascend. Show all posts
Showing posts with label talascend. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Snakes & Ladders – How will you manage your staff against the plans you made for 2013?

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

The only thing you know for certain about the budget, said an old mentor of mine, is that it’s wrong.

One way or another, you’re going to have issues with the plans you made in November for the year ahead. Not surprising, given that you aimed to somehow foresee the next year’s market conditions, predict the performance of your customers and anticipate everything from super storms to the attrition of key personnel.  Then you reconciled this guess work with your shareholders’ aspirations – which are seldom modest or undemanding – to produce ‘the plan’.

Beyond the obvious problem – the fact that you have no idea if the reality will render the theory absurd – which you can’t waste your time worrying about, you have a major concern that you can and must address:
How will the ever present plan, and perceptions of success and failure, affect your staff’s actual performance?

Whatever you business, and engineering staffing is a perfectly good example, you have some ladders to take advantage of and a number of snakes to avoid in managing productivity.

Ladder 1
New Year Urgency
It’s simple. Your well rested staff return to work fired up, full of resolutions and raring to go. Success follows. Happy days.

Snake 1
New Year Attrition
Not everybody translates their ‘New year – new start’ positivity into hard work for you. January is the biggest month for hiring and job seeking. Right now one of your key staff is planning to make a fresh start of a different kind this year. You are never more vulnerable to turnover among strong performers than you are in January. Have some conversations and make sure you know how your top people are feeling.

Ladder 2
Motivation increases from strong start
So Q1 has gone great. By and large your staff over performed. The atmosphere is buzzing and there’s a great deal of confidence about the year ahead. You can harness this to drive greater productivity. Increase the optimism through the promise of additional rewards. Share some of the results of the over performance, you might see it again in Q2.

Snake 2
Complacency sets in as your staff hit the cruise control button
Some will use success to strive for more success, others will use success as a justification for slowing down. Again your answer is in adjusting rewards. You can’t use the stick for someone who’s overperformed, but you can switch the carrot out for something slightly larger and more juicy. Increase the performance rewards at the highest thresholds and motivate people to excel further.

Ladder 3
Fostering long term development
When you’re on target, you have the opportunity to invest time and energy in developing your staff. If you know they are going to hit targets, you can spare a little time for training, team building and all the other things that are, conversely, the first casualties when you begin to slip behind. When things are going well this year, give serious consideration to investing a little energy in longer term productivity. If you don’t take advantage of successful times to do this, you never will do it.

Snake 3
Entitlement increases from ‘high value / high maintenance’ mentality
Many a trajectory has begun with early success, followed by plateau and then freefall – induced by the early success itself. A proportion of the people who work with you will take pride in their success over the line and become entitled. I’m contributing all this, I should be getting more. I’m better than they are, I should be treated better. These people need me more than I need them. The worst thing about this reaction to success is that it can inflict collateral damage on other staff. Egotism is a virus and it spreads quickly. If you look to reward high performers early with extra benefits to reach for and investment in their skills, they will feel rewarded in both the short term and long term. Entitlement is never just the result of performance, it is the result of performance combined with a lack of perceived appreciation.

Ladder 4
A definition of minimum acceptable performance is understood and you can manage to it
The plan allows you to manage underperformance, because of clearly understood targets that are either met or not met. If they are not met, you have a very clear mandate to chase good performance, or to let people go accordingly. The threat of failure can be a great motivator and if you’ve got an agreed threshold, there is never any ambiguity. Make sure the staff understand the importance of accomplishing targets and then dig in to the work of helping them get there, even if it means reforecasting to meet external challenges.

Snake 4
Doom, gloom and dismal prospects will never inspire improved performance.
If your staff are chasing after a plan so unrealistic as to be entirely unachievable they will not be motivated by it and it might as well not be there. The double threat is that they will hold you responsible for signing off on the budget in the first place. Maybe you were trying to please shareholders; maybe you were just wholly unrealistic. It doesn’t matter – there’s a massive burden to carry everyday and you gave it to them. Sure, they accepted it, but what other choice did they have? If all your staff have to look forward to is one round of meetings after another where they are asked why they are so far behind the forecast, they will not stick around to endure it; they’ll just go somewhere where they can get an even break. And you know that regardless of the plan, they may just be performing better than you honestly expected.

There are many more ladders and many more snakes and I’d be fascinated to hear your own versions. The bottom line is that you’re going to play this game whatever happens; your budget will either contribute to success or to failure. Which way it goes is up to you.

Richard Spragg writes about a number of issues related to engineering jobs. Find out more about Talascend, about electrical engineering, about civil engineering and about mechanical engineering jobs from Our Website.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

The 5 most obvious mistakes made in job interviews - Part 2

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.
Mistake #2- Getting the Talking / Listening Balance Wrong

When all is said and done you’ll either win or lose in a job interview. Everyone involved in the process – on both sides of the table - should be attempting to win. If it’s a mutual win, great. If it’s just you who wins, that will do.

In most cases, the winner will be the person who listens most.

How do you ‘win’ at interviewing? Simple. You put yourself in the position where you have the decision making power as to what happens next.

If you’re the candidate, that means that the interviewer wants to hire you and you understand enough about the role to know whether or not you should take it. As an interviewer, that means that the candidate wants the job for sure, and you've learned enough about them to know whether you want to pull the trigger.

There are two mutual wins in interviewing. First, the right candidate is offered the job and they accept. Second, the wrong candidate is not offered the job and moves on to other things. 

To get to one of these mutual wins, you’re going to have to get the balance of talking and listening right. Interviews are a collaborative exercise - you can't drive a successful meeting entirely by yourself. You have to meet each other half way and share the burden of making the meeting flow. A meeting that's awkward and disjointed is highly unlikely to result in a mutual win.

Within this context, you will have a choice of listening and encouraging the other person to talk, or talking yourself. Try to come down on the side of listening.

Most people don’t listen with intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. says Stephen Covey, the late great business writer. Job interviews are especially prone to this behavior. From the candidate’s perspective, this is pretty reasonable. After all you’re there to be judged on your answers, it’s not surprising that you might spend the time when you’re not talking, thinking what to say next. Then you have your internal monologue to contend with – am I presenting myself well? Does she like me? How is this going? Will this help me find a job? With all of this going on, it’s not surprising that you might struggle to listen effectively. And listening is critical to the process you’re engaged in.

I’ve had countless candidates come back from interviews and say that they didn’t really talk much themselves – that the interviewer did most of the talking. He or she gave an extensive history of the company, talked about the team and their objectives. The candidate is usually worried at this point, because they tend to feel like they haven’t been given the chance to adequately impress the interviewer. They seem surprised when I tell them that this is a good thing. They are skeptical, but I know that the vast majority of people who find themselves in this position end up getting through to the next stage in the process.

Human beings are never happier than when someone is listening. Whether we are ego maniacs who want to inflict our opinions on people by making speeches to rooms full of people (or by writing blogs that amount to the same thing) or if we take pleasure in quietly telling our husbands and wives about the day we’ve had. The words you listen to me too much were never spoken by anybody ever. We want to be listened to; it is us being told that we matter, that what we have to say is important.

If we feel like someone is listening to us we tend to like them. We reflect their respect. All the more if we’re talking about something we’re passionate about. I swear I’ve been at dinner parties where some guy is rambling on for an hour about their latest project or interest. Whatever is exciting them. They talk and talk, and out of sheer politeness beyond all reasonable expectation – the curse of the British – I sit there and listen, nodding with interest at the right moments and occasionally intimating surprise or agreement wherever I feel like they need it. Later, the host will say to me –‘Oh Jerry said you and he were getting on very well, he really enjoyed your conversation.’ I chuckle. I barely said a word, but Jerry was so pleased to talk about his kid’s advanced placement program and so bursting with good feeling that he’d projected those feelings on to me. For all he knew I wanted to talk to him about applying Scientology principles to a new interpretation of Mein Kampf. But in his mind – I was someone he liked. And he had no basis for this. He was talking into a mirror. 

So as candidates for jobs if we prove ourselves good listeners, we’re likely to see the interviewer leave with a positive impression. Any sales person worth their salt will tell you that a good sales meeting is one where the prospect does most of the talking.

In a job interview situation, whichever side of the table you’re sat on, you need to make sure that you are listening enough to make it productive. (As always, we’re not talking about basics here – long protracted silences are bad, so are short answers and introverted refusal to let conversation flow – we will take some things as read.)

The point is that in a healthy conversational interview, you should always lean toward listening if you’re allowed to. Asking questions, showing genuine interest – these things will help to keep your interviewer talking, and if they’re enjoying talking to you, the chances are they’re liking you.

Good listeners win friends easily, they attract people to them and they take part in successful job interviews.

Nobody ever listened their way out of a job. 

Next Week - Part Three  – More Interview Mistakes

Some questions for comments: What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen? How do you think people can make interviews easier on themselves and others?

Richard Spragg writes about engineering and construction jobs, and business advice in staffing and recruitment

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The 5 most obvious mistakes made in job interviews

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.
Last month we focused on resumes and the importance of building effective written introductions to your experience and skill set.

This month, across our various channels, we’re going to be talking about the importance of interviews, the most regularly made mistakes and the potential that a well structured interview offers for both sides of the table.

During my years in recruiting, HR and marketing in the staffing industry, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people. I’ve always considered it to be the most important hour of the hiring process; while resumes can misrepresent things and offers can be accepted or declined – It is the first meeting, between the two people who could end up working together that will get to the heart of the real potential and pave the way for future employment.  

As a starting point for this month’s discussions, I’m offering the first of the five biggest mistakes made by interviewers and candidates, with advice from all three perspectives.

Mistake #1 - The First Impression Trap

The evidence suggests that human beings give far too much credence to the immediate emotional responses triggered in meeting someone. The legendary ‘first impression.’ We make a basic decision about whether we like someone or not almost immediately; while this reaction can be reversed, we often begin to act upon it in a way that makes a reversal less likely. If you want the science, read about the amygdala hijack and the role of the neo cortex. For our purposes it’s best to accept the brain's physical and chemical reactions and focus on what happens next.

For Interviewers:

Here’s the crux – studies suggest that if you like someone you ask them easier questions and their easier answers reinforce your positive perception. If you take an instant dislike to someone, you tend to ask tougher questions and use their relative difficulty in answering them to solidify your negative impression.

Awareness of the problem will help. You should make a conscious effort not to allow your emotional response to guide you, at least in question setting.  A consistent set of questions fixed in advance will help you stay on track. You should also keep a clear thought in your head throughout the process. ‘I owe this person the whole of the time I have allotted to create an impression on me.’ They might come back strong – you must give them the chance to do that if you want to get the most from the process. It’s your time, don’t waste it going through the motions after a rushed decision, when you could be constantly resetting your impression and allowing for something to surprise you and change the game.

For Candidates:

You should assume that the vast majority of interviewers will be oblivious to the dangers of their immediate conclusions. You should put every effort into making a strong first impression.

When I was a young recruiter in London, we used a system called magic wand – a set of instructions for candidates that we believed would statistically increase their chances of getting hired. This is nothing to do with dressing appropriately, or shaking hands with eye contact or anything else any applicant for any job should take for granted. These are slightly less obvious tips.

Don’t settle down in reception.
If you do your immediate first impression will be of someone trying to clamber out of a sofa and reach for your bag. If you’re on your feet, bag in hand, you look prepared and ready for action, you will meet your interviewer face to face.

Have small talk prepared.
A lot of key time can be spent between the elevator and the interview room. The days of secretaries doing all the work are long behind us. If you come to interview with me, it’s going to be me who meets you in reception; this is true of hiring managers and executives all over the US., particularly on engineering jobs, where an all hands on deck mentality prevails.

Compliment something
Positive remarks about the building / area or anything else are a good, simple way to make a first impression. Keep it realistic, if the building is shabby and in a terrible area, you’re unlikely to get away with – ‘Wow, this is such a nice building.’ But if you can, you should. Any kind of positive comment on their working environment will contribute to first impressions. “How’s that little Italian restaurant on the corner? It looks great.”

Say Yes.
Just say yes to things. If you’re offered water, say yes – even if you don’t want it. Saying yes to things creates a positive atmosphere. A glass of water also provides that vital extra three seconds of thinking time before you answer a question. You can’t just sit there staring into space for a moment while you gather your thoughts, but you can take a nice slow sip on a glass of water without anybody noticing the break.

There are more of these, but these are the ones that affect first impressions. The more of these things you do, the more likely you are to get that good start, and if you do, you could find the questions getting easier as your interviewer starts to work with you.

For Recruiters, who are sending candidates for Interviews, you would do well to acquaint yourself with these tools so you can pass them on. Preparing your candidate properly for their interview is a vital part of the agent’s role. A good agent gives both their customers the best chance of success. It’s in everyone’s interests that the interview be productive and that the right candidate doesn’t lose out on an opportunity they were a god match for because of poor interview technique.

When we talk about best fit talent, this is what we mean. The engineering recruiter’s job isn’t to find the world’s greatest professional, it’s to find the best person to fit the job that’s on offer. Part of this endeavour includes getting them through the physical process of hiring and helping them to shine. If you’re just sending your candidates to interviews with a date and time, you’re not doing enough for them or your client. You should focus most of your attention during the recruiting process on the interview.

Interviews are where jobs are won and lost, roles are filled or left unfilled and recruiter targets are hit or missed. Whatever your role in the process, you’re not alone. Everyone wants this interview to end in a successful hire, make sure you’re doing your part to make that happen. Don’t lose a perfectly good hire in the First Impression trap.

Next Week - Part Two  – More Interview Mistakes

Some questions for comments: What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen? How do you think people can make interviews easier on themselves and others?

Richard Spragg writes about engineering and construction jobs, and business advice in staffing and recruitment

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cracking the myth of effective multitasking

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

It was only fairly recently that I cracked the myth of multitasking, and found an attitude toward it that I am comfortable with. 

These days, I see it this way. A housewife (if you’ll forgive the 1950s stereotype that follows – but the idea of the multitasking superwoman is perfect for this purpose) needs to cook dinner, tidy up the lounge of toys and change a nappy. She leaves some sauce simmering on the stove, picks up a couple of soft toys and throws them in the toy chest, then takes care of the baby’s nappy. She returns child to crib, washes her hands, picks up the books that were on the floor and slides them back into the bookshelf. She returns to the stove, adds some basil, reduces the heat and goes to answer the doorbell. This is the classic stereotype of multitasking. That skill, much maligned by the stereotype useless male – unable to sit upright and breath in and out at the same time – that results in incredible productivity.

But this is not really multitasking.

At no stage was the housewife engaged in two tasks at once, nor should she have been. True multitasking would have involved changing the nappy, while using the baby’s legs to stir the sauce and kicking the toys and books one by one toward the place they were supposed to go. The result? Burned feet, nappies on the stove, books nowhere near the bookshelf and a lot of mess to clean up.

Thus stands the multitasking myth. Because what you’re really talking about is not the ability to complete multiple tasks at once, but the ability to switch between tasks effectively, without hindering the effectiveness of your contribution to any of them. This is what you should focus on improving if you want to be a multitasker. How can you flip between jobs productively? Your working routine is bound to require it; nobody's working day ever allows them to focus on one thing only, but they are seldom required to actually do two things at once.

So multitasking remains one of the biggest myths in the modern workplace, whether that work place is an office, a construction site or a household.

That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, or that it can’t be done. There are number of ways that you can multitask effectively, and putting some thought into structuring your day to allow for these real examples of multitasking is what will help to make you more efficient.

Here are a few things you can do that constitute real multitasking.

Schedule phone conversations when you’re driving (hands free please.)
My car has some clever green tooth or blue eye thing that means I receive calls from a button on my steering wheel. But a $10 earpiece has much the same effect.If you have an hour long commute involving traffic (and if you’re working on engineering jobs in Houston for example, I know you do) you can make it work for you. It doesn’t have to be business; it can be anything that will save you time earlier or later in the day. Sit on hold with whichever bank is currently abusing your custom. Call Mom. If it’s something you would have to find other time to do otherwise, it’s saving you time.  (Make sure you are complying with all legal responsibilities for safety reasons.)

Combine Audiobooks with basic physical tasks
Again, the car is good. But so is the bath, the kitchen while you’re cooking dinner (one of my responsibilities at our place – who’s 1950’s now?) or the treadmill at the gym. You don’t have to read, to get that book read. It was a big day for me when I realized that iPods weren’t just for music. Audiobooks (that you pay for) or podcasts (that you don’t) offer a vast range of opportunities to learn and develop during dead time, like when you’re on the stationary bike, or boiling the water for the pasta. 

Combine Conference Calls with almost anything
Be honest. A good number of conference calls require less than active participation. If I find myself on one of those calls, I look for the mute button and for something else to do. If I’m in my office at home, I’ll do a wash load or clean the kitchen. The combination of mindless physical task and passive mental task is a good one. You should be careful not to try anything too engaging. It’s difficult to build a PowerPoint presentation or write a detailed e-mail and stay on top of the subject matter of a conference call, even if you’re not talking very often. You need to pay attention, but a physical task that requires no thought should allow that.

Multitasking can only be effectively achieved with the right balance of mindless physical tasks and stationary mental ones. As soon as anything blurs the lines on that distinction, you’re in trouble. Beware overreaching. I suggest you take my word for the fact that stationary bikes and food preparation are not a good match. Weddings and audiobooks can also result in injuries of a different kind. Throughout this process, one must pay attention to what is potentially dangerous, or just plain inappropriate. It’s easy to offend people if they should get the impression they don’t have your full attention.

At the end of the day, which task you are neglecting, and which you are diligently carrying out is all a matter of perception. As my school chaplain once told me – “You can’t smoke while you pray. But you can pray, while you smoke.”

Multitasking suggestions and party fouls welcome in your comments…

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including business practice,  global engineering jobs, global engineering staffing and marketing in the technical sector.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Richard Branson’s going to Mars. Can you manage when he’s gone?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.
Branson’s at it again. Now he wants to colonize Mars. Not content with his spaceport or his fleet of space shuttles, Sir Richard is eyeing the red planet with the intention of creating a Noah’s Ark of earthlings, ready and willing to create a new population.

I don’t concern myself with the eccentricities of Mr. Branson’s twilight years in business. I care nothing for the fact that his life resembles the plot of Moonraker a little more every day. Richard Branson can colonize Mars to his heart’s content as far as I’m concerned. If he raises three generations of clone-a-like men and women with his outlook on life, then Mars will be a very successful colony indeed.

When it comes to this guy, I only want to talk about one thing – management. Not ‘leadership’, that wonderful concept that’s allowed two-a-penny executives like me to stay out of the annoying details of actual work and just tour the world patting people on the back and quoting Sun Tzu; not ‘entrepreneurialism’ which translates to convincing people to take sizable risks and then enjoying the benefits that your luck and their money deliver. No. The key for the success of the 99%, or the 47% or whatever % figure you want to use for ‘normal’ is management. Branson’s always been a great manager; that’s why the Virgin brand is such a powerhouse and it’s why he gets his own planet to play with.

Bad management is everywhere, even where you have great leaders at the top. It’s their job to make sure you all do the right things, not that you do things right.

High level strategic decisions can be blamed for the death of a lot of previously successful businesses. Borders decided to limit choice and reduce investment in local loyalty initiatives.  Blockbuster inexplicably failed to perceive the threat that the digitization of their core market was going to hold. 

Some business suicides are committed in the board room. But most are not; most failing and struggling businesses are doing the right things, they’re just not doing them right.

It was bad management that led to the 2008 financial crisis, as employees in financial institutions made decisions and took risks that should have been seen, understood and stopped by the people responsible for connecting individual behavior to the big picture.

Bad management can be blamed for everything from congested airports to long lines at the coffee shop to celebrity cash crises – because MC Hammer and Mike Tyson never had CEOs or boardrooms. But they both had managers.

From bad communication to lack of trust, disengagement, indecision, laziness and pride to poor delegation, unclear targets, weak organization and low accountability – you are never more than two rooms from a bad manager. It’s time to stop talking about leadership and strategy when it’s not appropriate. It’s time to talk about getting things done, helping other people get things done and keeping things organized, well-planned and clearly reported. It’s time to dismiss the inflated job titles and flat organizational structures that have left us all feeling buddy-buddy with the chairman and looking upward at our next shiny business card. It’s time to stop going to round tables and having lunch with consultants. It’s time to get everything out on the table, understand it and make it work better. I will no longer be ashamed to be, above anything else, a manager. A manager of people and of projects. I will manage my budget, manage my staff and manage our workload.

My name is Richard Spragg and I am a manager.

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to talk about what good management is, and between us, we’re going to make me and some of my readers better at it. 

For a fun starting point, I offer these management advice quotes from top names in business and beyond, including Sir Richard. We have a lot to learn from these people, before they all saunter off into outer space.

Post your thoughts, or your favorite pearl of management wisdom in the comments box and share it with the world.

Do you have what it takes? Talascend can provide you with access to more job opportunities than any other provider in the sector.  Search our database of available jobs and register with us so our consultants can find the right potential opportunities for you.

Monday, September 17, 2012

250 years later, seeking a permanent end to bad resumes.

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

As early as the eighteenth century, letters of introduction were a part of polite society. The practice spread to American shores from Europe.

David Wilkie's 'A letter of introduction' 1813
They have changed over time. Letters of recommendation became self written, they became more detailed – listing everything about a person’s accomplishments and background. But they remain a written introduction to a complete stranger, vouching for a person’s credentials. That has not changed. These days we call them resumes.

In 250 years we’ve invented electricity. We’ve invented cars, airplanes and computers. Twelve of us have walked on the moon. (Unless you’re one of the 20% of this population that don’t believe that ever happened.)

Yet if one of those astronauts wanted a job forty years later, pursuing whatever field of engineering he first emerged from, he would need to sit down and write a resume.

Overall, I’d say that the recruitment industry and everyone involved in jobs and hiring have been largely unreceptive to alternatives. The only movement we’ve seen is in the idea of profiles – completed for social media sites and job boards – but these ideas only form earlier stages in the process that inevitably lead to the attachment of a resume.

We have simply settled on a level of comfort that has become unshakeable. It’s resume to interview to hire. No account’s been taken of the many possibilities that the online world has delivered, particularly the combination of home shot videos and social media. If you had seen someone answer a number of questions in a self shot video interview, which could be accomplished easily with pretty much any laptop camera or Apple device, would you not be prepared to complete the interview in person? Maybe, but I bet you’d still expect them to bring a resume on the day.

Personal websites have become very normal, but again they are not replacing resumes. Whatever a person’s online community activity, they can still expect it to end up on a piece of US Letter sized paper, printed out, stapled neatly in the corner and left on a desk somewhere.

I got a headhunt call last week. (These are still infrequent enough to merit some attention.) Their client had seen the blog and wanted to know if I was available to discuss their vacancy. “Could you send us your resume?” was their main thrust. And I’m thinking, I’ve produced 40 something blogs. Maybe 20,000 words of detailed views on the marketing of recruiting businesses and the engineering and construction industry. And you want to see a two page resume that says I went to Essex University and I like tennis? I might stay where I am thanks. 

In the final analysis, it may just be that the resume is a cockroach. A great survivor, neither popular nor pretty, but worthy of its place through pure evolution (unless you’re one of the 46% of the population who don’t believe that happened either.)

If we are to continue to use the resume to hire and be hired, surely we can come together to work out what a resume really should look like. There may be every reason to still be using resumes in 2012, but there can’t be any excuse for using bad resumes. And all of us involved in staffing see so many bad resumes on a daily basis.

I’m calling upon serious people in my own industry and others to come together on this. We need to help each other to deliver a better standard of resume, a template – once and for all – that makes life easier for everyone in the hiring chain, from candidates to line managers, to employers and agencies.

Let’s talk about it. What do we want to see in resumes? What do we not want to see? It’s had 250 years to reach the ideal format by itself, maybe it’s time we helped it along.  

You can find more information on how to avoid the pitfalls of bad resumes by downloading our free white paper with resume advice. 

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering jobs, staffing and marketing in the technical sector.

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

Monday, July 30, 2012

Going abroad for work? Take a lesson from the Governor...

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

Former Governor and Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, 
Image: Chris Devers (Wikipedia Commons)
If you think you’re having a bad week, just imagine how Mitt Romney feels. We don’t do politics here (see many earlier blogs, about politics at work) but I know a guy having a bad week at work when I see one, and there are lessons to be learned from the Governor by anyone planning to spend time travelling abroad on business.

Engineers are as likely as anyone to find themselves flying somewhere for work. Almost all of us, whatever our role in the industry, are to some degree working global engineering jobs. Whether the global element is regular and demanding, or relatively infrequent, chances are you’re going to spend some time abroad at some point. Here are my Top 5 tips for making friends not enemies when you're on the road.

1.       Prepare.
Do your homework. There’s nothing worse than meeting someone who has made no effort to learn anything about you, despite having known in advance exactly where they were going and who they were seeing. Forgetting people’s names will not help you get on their good side.

2.       Speak the language. (Two words will do.)
The vast majority of international business is conducted in English. While this is widely understood, you would be well advised to treat this as a luxury rather than an entitlement. A sincere ‘Bonjour’ or ‘merci’ will reset the expectation in any room. Conversely, forgetting that the country you’re visiting speaks the same language as your country and bashing them for, let’s say, inadequately preparing for the Olympic games, will also change the atmosphere in any room.

3.       Know your stereotype and push gently the other way.
We all know very well that international stereotypes are mostly unfounded and often just plain xenophobic. But they do exist. It does you no harm to be aware of what prejudices await you and to make sure you’re gently combating them out of the gate. If you represent a culture where others will expect you to be late for everything, arrive ten minutes early. I’m British, I’ve lived in America for years. Believe me I have a dentist on speed dial, I’m very outgoing and I drink my beer very, very cold.

4.       Say ‘Yes’.
I know you might be tired when you’re travelling. You may have started fantasizing about watching the game while you eat room service in your boxer shorts. You may be looking forward to your gym work out, but if you’re asked to go to the karaoke bar with your new acquaintances, you need to go. An offer of inclusion may not simply be a casual invitation because you’re there. It means something to people when they invite you to spend time with them. You’re not just turning down the happy hour beer, you’re saying no to them. Say yes. See the game on Sports Centre later.

5.       Follow Up personally.
If you spend personal time with someone, follow up personally. The business reason that you went will always be there, but if you made some personal progress, don’t forget to actively follow that up too. Thanking people is a great way to be liked. When you come back from your trip, make a point of thanking people, even for small things. Nobody ever objected to being thanked, especially publicly. (Unless your meeting was, for sake of argument, a secret meeting with the head of a country’s covert intelligent services.)

Business travel can be exciting, interesting, challenging, tiring, disappointing, boring and fascinating in every way. It can vary day to day and person to person, especially with the variety you find on most global engineering jobs. But if you take time to understand the place you’re visiting and make a real effort to create a good impression, it’s highly likely that you will create that impression and that the benefits will stay with you.

The negative effects of ignoring these rules will stay with you too. That’s a lesson I suggest you leave the Governor to learn on his own.

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

Monday, July 16, 2012

Must everyone evolve from innovation to advertising in the end?

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

It’s a long time since Google built the world’s best search engine. It’s quite a long time since the development of Google Maps, or Google Earth. At the time, these things were revolutionary and made significant contributions to daily life for a lot of people.

What’s Google’s latest innovation? It’s not a rhetorical question. Google+? Surely not. Even if it’s a new offering, it’s not exactly innovative. No more than Google Mail anyway.

Where’s the innovative beef?  

Nowhere. That’s where. Google is an advertising company. It’s raison d’ĂȘtre is to sell advertising space on its media to private organizations in return for money. Rather a lot of money in fact. Google made $38bn revenue in 2011. Not all from advertising, admittedly, only 96%.

James Whittaker, the disgruntled employee who’s fair minded and heartfelt resignation letter garnered so much attention earlier this year pointed to this evolution from innovation to advertising as the death of the company he seemed to honestly love. The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Social Media advertising - the next great 
internet bubble?
Facebook has been on the same trajectory. Gone are the constant additions in functionality and tweaks to the way Facebook works. Not entirely actually, there have been various substantive adjustments in the area of advertising, and how ads appear on our pages.

Twitter, it seems, is next. The descent from innovation to advertising is first seen by the developers who  are the first to know what’s coming, but only in the same way that the canary in the mine shaft is the first to know what’s coming.

Lately there are rumblings from the development community that they are being pushed towards developments, for example expanded tweets with image functionality, that scream advertising. Prepare ye the way of the sales people.

Underlying this inevitable evolution is a fact that nobody round the social media boardroom table seems to be nearly worried enough about. The concept of social media advertising is enduring a substantial wobble. GM pulled all of their Facebook advertising, claiming it simply doesn’t work. And over the last few months, the marketing consulting industry has started to gather around the idea that the much prized ‘likes’ may not be worth that much.

Social Media’s big players are blowing a huge bubble, and only one thing happens to bubbles in the end. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lessons from Wimbledon, for Andy Murray (and the rest of us.)

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

So Wimbledon draws to a close again. The All England Tennis championship is down to the last two ladies and the last two chaps.  

Unfortunately for the US audience, there was no chance of an American winner this year but never fear, the British have had their share of hopeless years. The last person to lose to a Briton in a Wimbledon semi final died in the battle of Stalingrad in 1942.

Wimbledon: home to more than the odd 
philosophical soundbite. 
Until about an hour ago that is.

As Andy Murray overcomes a tough draw, huge amounts of pressure and the super-high expectations of the British public and media, to reach a Wimbledon final (the first man since 1938) he will have to dig deep.

Fortunately, the world of tennis has produced more than the odd philosopher, with pearls of wisdom to help him through it. And you know what? I think there’s a lot we can learn in business terms from these white-shorted philosophers, especially those of us who work for Talascend as we continue to fulfill our corporate values of accountability, expertise, enthusiasm and integrity. I'm shamelessly plugging these values, partly because I can, and partly because we actually take them very seriously. 


“It's one-on-one out there, man. There ain't no hiding. I can't pass the ball.” Pete Sampras

He didn’t get to be the greatest player who ever lived for very long. I’ve often thought it unfair on Pete Sampras that Roger Federer arrived so soon after him. Jack Nicklaus saw over twenty years pass before Tiger arrived. Michael Jordan’s still enjoying his status as the greatest ever. Pete Sampras retires in 2003 with 14 singles titles and is almost immediately surpassed in most people’s eyes by his successor. One of the reasons he achieved so much, according to those who know him, is that he never needed anyone’s approval but his own. He held himself accountable for every single performance and remained completely internally driven. Great sportspeople, like great business people I would say,  accept praise, reward and notoriety gladly, but they don’t rely on them to drive performance.

“As soon as I step on the court I just try to play tennis and don't find excuses. You know, I just lost because I lost, not because my arm was sore.” Goran Ivanisavich

Goran killed Wimbledon in 2001 when he won as a qualifier, beating half the major seeds on his way through. So exciting was his final with Pat Rafter, that it more or less rendered everything after dull and mediocre. What I’ve always loved about this guy is that whenever he was interviewed he never looked for excuses. He lost a lot in Grand Slam finals, under a variety of circumstances. But if he played badly – he said so. Sometimes you have to accept that your own performance was lacking and just put your hands up. The people you work with will accept that more readily than a hundred excuses.


“For the first couple of years I played really bad tennis. It was so bad that they booed me off the court.” Richard Krajcek

Success was a long time in coming for the big Dutchman. Enthusiasm’s easy when you’re doing well. The real test of enthusiasm is when you suck and you know it. We all have bad runs in our business;  it’s particularly hard at the start, but our ability to persevere and to stay optimistic is what will eventually set us apart. Breaking a dry spell with a good win is hard for us all, but it’s not as hard as winning Wimbledon, which Krajcek did in 1996.

"What is the single most important quality in a tennis champion? I would have to say desire, staying in there and winning matches when you are not playing that well.” John McEnroe

The Mac goes even further. With the right amount of desire and perseverance you can win even if you’re not on your game. Pete Alleyne’s talked about this already – attitude versus ability. You can overcome obstacles with a desire to succeed.


“Find something that you're really interested in doing in your life. Pursue it, set goals, and commit yourself to excellence. Do the best you can.” Chris Evert

Work out what you want to do, understand your specific goals and then commit yourself to achieving them. I have literally nothing to add to that.

“I've been playing against older and stronger competition my whole life. It has made me a better tennis player and able to play against this kind of level despite their strength and experience.”
Maria Sharapova

I like Maria Sharapova’s quote on a number of levels. Firstly the humility of believing yourself to be surrounded by better players even when obviously, you’re not. But realizing that your expertise increases by being weaker and less experienced than those around you is vital. If I ever found myself to be the most experienced and capable person in a room, I would start looking for the door. (But it hasn’t happened yet, so we’re good.)


“Family's first, and that's what matters most. We realize that our love goes deeper than the tennis game.” Serena Williams

Integrity is about commitment. It’s about doing the best you can because it’s the right thing to do and behaving in a way that genuinely acknowledges that there are more important things in life than business, reward and profit. My family’s far more important to me than Talascend’s ever going to be and that’s as it should be. Integrity is about throwing yourself into your work even though we all have something we’d rather be doing. We look forward to the weekends when we don’t have to work. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody ever died wishing they spent more time in the office. That’s why we rely on our integrity to care about what we do and to push ourselves forward. It’s what makes us professionals. Because you can be involved in something or you can be committed to it. Both take the same amount of time.

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.” Martina Navratilova

So there you have it. The Talascend values, brought to you by some of the world’s best Tennis players. I recommend you tune in Sunday to see if history is made, and don’t forget to look out for the moments of post-match interview genius.

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