Saturday, August 31, 2013

Labor Day

This country is facing a serious labor shortage. Sure we have a lot of unemployed folks. Some don’t want to work, at least not for the wages that are available. Some are just not employable for a variety of reasons. Some are living in the wrong zip code and can’t figure out how to get to where the jobs are. And many are in transition and will be working soon. Then there are drugs and criminal records and health issues and all kinds of noise that keep people unemployed. Unemployment is a problem, a serious problem and I don’t mean to minimize it. If you’re unemployed it’s a huge problem for you personally. But, when one looks at the big picture and considers what this nation will look like over the next fifty years, the looming labor shortage is as critical as any issue we are facing. We are rapidly approaching the point where there simply will not be enough skilled trades people around to keep our machines running. Even semi-skilled or unskilled labor will be in short supply.

Everyone can’t be information workers or idea people or relationship managers. Some one has to keep things running and clean-up the mess. Ultimately, the marketplace will do its job and the person with the tool belt and hardhat will make more money than the person with the keyboard and mouse. In fact, we are already there with certain trades. The person driving the truck will make more money, a lot more money, than the person dispatching the truck. In some transportation sectors we are already there, as well. And the person repairing the truck may end up making more money than anyone.

Information, ideas and relationships ultimately matter. For hundreds of years those people who were good at managing (and in many cases manipulating) information, ideas and relationships were pretty special and made a lot of money. In an age of instant and almost unlimited information, “knowing” stuff isn’t so special anymore. And most of the low-hanging fruit of brilliant ideas has been picked. Invention and innovation will always be special. But we now live in a global marketplace of ideas. The supply of brilliant minds is greater than it’s ever been in the history of the world. So what if you’re the smartest person in your city or state or country. It just doesn’t mean what it used to mean, nor is it worth as much. And as for relationships, it will probably make more sense to know people who can fix your car, your computer or your air-conditioning; than it will to know how to motivate your employees. Especially, when your employees read about motivation on the internet and know exactly what you’re up to.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The D-Word

The next time someone is trying to sell you something you would do well to watch out for the D-Word. The D-Word is the secret weapon of closing. It is the most powerful word in marketing and advertising. It is the “winning word” for settling disagreements between friends, lovers and family members. Lawyers love to use the D-word in opening and closing arguments. It is the vote getting word in politics. It is the one word that puts your conscience to bed when you are making a bad choice. It’s the D-Word: D-E-S-E-R-V-E.

It’s a word I seldom use in the search business because I think it’s too dangerous. Furthermore, whether you are a candidate or a hiring authority, I have no clue as to what you may or may not deserve. Certainly, I want to know what’s motivating your decision. Why are we talking? If you are a candidate, what is motivating you to seek a new opportunity or even consider one? If you are a hiring authority, what is motivating you to hire someone for a certain position? I’ve written about these issues in the past and there is a lot to unpack in these questions. But, fundamentally, all motivations are driven by different levels of “want”. In the search business, all of my questions ultimately connect to your “wants”. What do you want? Why do you want? How much do you want? I love working with highly motivated people, either hiring authorities or candidates. Tire-kickers and window-shoppers don’t pay the rent. I want to work with people who are ready, willing and able to do business.

And no one is more motivated AND at risk than the person who believes they “deserve it”; whatever “it” is. If they think they deserve it, I know that I will have their undivided attention along with some personal baggage. The D-word is a double-edged sword. For instance, the candidate who is convinced that they deserve a certain position or a certain level of compensation is the most at risk for accepting a counter offer. There is an ego-factor embedded in “deserving” that translates into a need for acceptance. The candidate that likes their company, likes their boss, likes the people they works with, etc. etc.; but thinks they "deserve" a promotion, a raise, a bigger office, whatever…is the candidate who will flip for a counter-offer. The hiring authority who is convinced that their organization “deserves” a certain level of candidate is the one most likely to end up making a low-ball offer, promoting from within or just deciding not to fill the position.

The other problem with those who are motivated by getting what they think they deserve is that they almost never get enough. It’s tempting to entice candidates with phrases such as “you’ve worked hard and this is the job you deserve” or “you know you deserve more”. And what hiring authority doesn’t “deserve” to hire the very best candidate (aka my candidate.) The D-word is a great closer, but too often, the “buyer” ends up disappointed.

From personal experience, I’ve made decisions where the D-word was a secondary factor. Want and deserved. Need and deserved. Can afford and deserved. It’s the right thing and deserved. We all put ourselves on that pedestal from time to time. But, when the D-word was the primary reason for my choice, it has always turned out badly. So whatever decisions you are facing, be wary of the D-word. You might just get what you deserve.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Best Little Book About Texas

Most people think that the best books about Texas were written by Larry McMurtry. Some folks who are not from Texas will even mention Edna Ferber (“Giant”). Those who are serious about Texas will look to the works of J. Frank Dobie, Elmer Kelton, Walter Prescott Webb, A.C. Green and T.R. Fehrenbach. And there are dozens of other great Texas writers. I’ve read some of all of them and all of McMurtry. I like the movie “Giant”. But the book, not-so-much. Ferber’s portrayal of Texas and Texans is just way too over-the-top and it comes across the same way in the movie. Entertaining yes, but not all that much like the real Texas.

McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” is near the top of my favorite books list and the television mini-series is the best I ever saw. One of his earlier books, “Horseman Pass By”, is a decent work that was the basis for the outstanding movie “Hud”. “The Last Picture Show is a good read and a better movie. “Terms of Endearment” is a fine novel and an excellent movie that just happened to have something to do with Texas. It wasn’t really about Texas and the setting could just as easily have been in Florida or Georgia or California. However, I still like most of McMurtry’s work and his portrayals of Texas and Texans are pretty much spot on.

But for my money, the best book ever written about Texas is John Graves’ “Goodbye To A River” (1960). John Graves passed away last week at the age of 92. Google John Graves + “Goodbye To A River” and you will find numerous articles and tributes to the writer and to the book. He was special and this book is special. Most of us at one time or another have read a book or heard a song or gazed at a painting and said to ourselves, “That’s how I feel” or “That’s what I see” or “That is the truth”. When I read “Goodbye To A River”, I say all of those things. It hits close to home. Like me, John Graves is from Fort Worth. Like me, he had uncles and relatives who introduced him to life away from the city. And like me, much of that time was spent on the Brazos River. The same section of the river he writes about in his book is one where I spent much of my youth. The people he writes about could easily be my kinfolk. And he ties Texas history into every bend in the river and beyond. While I cannot claim to be from that place, my parents and their parents and the family tree on back into the mid-1800’s are from that place. So in many ways that place and those people are mine.

“Goodbye To A River” is the only book, other than the Bible, that I read over and over. It reminds me of what my ancestors went through and how hard their lives were. It humbles me and keeps me from feeling sorry for myself when I am tired or stressed out. It inspires me to value all of God’s creation. It reflects both the sacredness and fickleness of life. It tells me that all people and all places count, no matter how small. It allows me to see things as they were and perhaps even as they are. For me, the best little book about Texas is also one of the best ones ever written about life.

“If a man couldn't escape what he came from, we would most of us still be peasants in Old World hovels. But, if, having escaped or not, he wants in some way to know himself, define himself, and tries to do it without taking into account the thing he came from, he is writing without any ink in his pen. The provincial who cultivates only his roots is in peril, potato-like, of becoming more root than plant. The man who cuts his roots away and denies that they were ever connected with him withers into half a man.”
― John Graves, Goodbye to a River: A Narrative