The Value of Planning

Is your management team too busy with the day-to-day operations, that they cannot step back and determine the future direction of the company? “Tactical busyness” is a common problem with the lean management teams in the staffing industry. They are so focused on the fires in front of them they cannot address long-term issues. This short term focus traps them in a reactive loop that undermines their ability to improve and direct the organization. About a year ago I was speaking with a software vendor who needed help with an unhappy client. It seems the client purchased their software, but management took a very hands-off approach on its implementation. This lack of leadership led to very poor tool adoption and productivity actually decreased. In response, the leadership team blamed the tool. This wasn’t a question of management being lazy or indifferent. As a matter of fact, these managers worked long hours and were very passionate about the success of the business. This is a great example of a management team that is so involved in the daily business that they do not take a hard look at what they should be doing. The core of the problem is role confusion … Read More

Behind the Wheel: Driving Excellence in Staffing Operations

I am often asked why I wrote a book about the staffing industry. I felt like a book on staffing management needed to be written. There was no business case or financial model, just a belief that strong management is critical to the future of our industry. We needed resources that helped managers understand there unique role as well as their importance. The purpose of the book is to improvement management performance through more effective decision making and collaboration. In order to accomplish that goal, this book defines the performance drivers, provides a shared language, and clarifies the management roles. Defining performance drivers: The key elements of any growth strategy are defined by the performance drivers – Sales Strategy, Operational Alignment, and Performance-Driven Culture. The Sales Strategy begins by identifying both target market and the sales capabilities required to be successful. Operational Alignment ensures the organization has the capabilities to deliver their value proposition. The Performance-Driven Culture is the x factor in staffing operations and the fuel for top-line growth. All managers must understand the role of each of these drivers and how to manage to them effectively. Providing shared language: As a company grows, having a disciplined vocabulary becomes more … Read More

Is Intuition Enough in the Staffing Industry?

Most successful executives I have worked with have an indefinable intuition for the business that drives their decision making. This ability presents itself in a variety of ways, but is best revealed when they are forced to make decisions for which there is no clear right direction. In those cases, the executive uses their best judgment and hopes for the best. Executives that are able to make the right judgments continue to see their firm grow, while others are left stagnant repairing the repercussions of poor decision making. But what happens when a staffing company grows and decision making becomes more and more complex? Can intuition effectively guide decision making? While I don’t completely disregard the role of intuition, a common mistake I see owners make is to believe that their intuition is a unique gift that shouldn’t be challenged even as their operational knowledge wanes. This perspective is often justified by the book Blink by Malcom Gladwell. In this book, Gladwell discusses rapid cognition or the thinking that happens in the first two seconds when placed in a new situation. Many people walk away from Blink with a higher regard for instincts as the key driver of decision making rather than fact based … Read More

Strong Managers Have a Balanced Perspective

Article Two in a Five Part Series: Several years ago I had a new recruiting manager come to me complaining that they couldn’t get their work done because they kept getting interrupted. In an attempt to learn more about the predicament, I asked for more details. He then began to craft for me a laundry list of fires he had to put out from addressing conflicts between team members to listening to employees discuss personal issues. Of course, he was disappointed to hear that addressing these daily interruptions is part of management. Too often, however, these interruptions can drive a manager to only think reflexively, to only worry about the next immediate problem and forget about one of the most important responsibilities of the job: Improving the Organization. This limited perspective of the job responsibilities is completely natural for a manager who must constantly address internal issues that come to their desk day in and day out. However, the question remains if management is solely focused on the present, then who is preparing for the future? The answer is “no one”. It is for this reason that managers must work to pull themselves out of the day-to-day and become more externally … Read More

Letterman’s Legacy

Recently, I stumbled across some articles that made some interesting claims including the “The ten dumbest management trends” and “The ten worst business ideas ever”.  It makes me want to write an article titled “The top ten management articles that make controversial overgeneralizations to drive web traffic”.  I understand why people structure their articles around lists, and if you want readership, then it pays to be as dramatic as possible.  Drama is entertaining.  Also, it certainly sets the expectations that the article is going to be relatively short and what manager wouldn’t want to know the top ten of anything? People love lists.  You see them everywhere on the internet from major news organizations to everyday blogs.  Lists suggest both a level of research and authority.  Initially, many lists were around interesting facts or well researched theory.  Lists are easy to digest, make for good trivia and provide a level of entertainment.  Lists can also provide important structure around management issues that can be difficult to define.  My upcoming webinar incorporates “Five Sales Drivers” is one example of that technique. However, reading these lists on management practices gives me cause for concern.  Lists that make sweeping generalizations are more about … Read More

Are the Scales of Talent Tipping?

From my discussions with many staffing owners and executives, things are getting better. Job orders are up, clients are moving faster and it seems more and more likely that the worst of the great recession may be behind us. This uptick is especially true for IT staffing. This is good news, but it does bring with it issues that managers have not faced in a long time including hiring and retaining top talent. Staffing companies live off of the need for talent, but we are facing a bit of a crisis of our own. I speak with staffing managers every day and the common focus area is hiring top sales and recruiting personnel. The sales side can be particularly vexing for managers that are just looking for “A hunter that can bring in business quickly”. These people may exist, but I make a point in my TechServe Rainmaker article that it is less a hiring strategy than it is wishful thinking. Similar issues are found in finding recruiting talent. The fact of the matter is for the foreseeable future in order for companies to build competitive teams, they need to build three critical capabilities: Retain Existing Talent: These last two years have been … Read More

The Price of Excellence

Recently the last of US combat troops left Iraq and crossed into Kuwait marking a significant milestone in a long hard fought war. Regardless, of your view on the war, the support for our troops justifiably crosses political spectrums and is a unifying force for most Americans. I believe much of that appreciation stems from the willingness of our men and women in uniform to make sacrifices that most of us would not consider, but that we know are required for all of us to live prosperous and free lives. However, regardless of the level of our appreciation, we tend to underestimate the lessons we can learn from our military. PBS has a compelling documentary, simply titled “The Marines” that sheds light on the nature of what motivates these men and women and what they are willing to go through to achieve their goals. Early on, it becomes clear that many of the Marines are primarily motivated by two things. First, is they feel called upon to protect the country and second they want to become part of an elite group. As they arrive at Parris Island they sacrifice their individualism and put themselves through physical, mental, and emotional turmoil to … Read More

Establishing a Culture of Performance

Having discussed the internal drivers of sales culture, the next step is to explore what leaders can do to establish a culture of performance. Since culture is largely defined by human behavior and decision making, it’s important to understand there is no one size fits all approach. The variability within the three internal drivers makes that clear. Companies have unique sales strategies, leadership styles, and team compositions. So if there is no one right answer, then how does a company establish a culture of performance versus a culture of adequacy? I believe the key for leaders to build a culture of performance primarily relies on three factors; clarity, communication, and consistency. Clarity Every company has a culture; the question is whether that culture has a clear purpose. This clear purpose is largely defined by executive management and gives their team a roadmap on what is desirable behavior. By not providing clarity, the culture is much more vulnerable to counterproductive or even destructive behavior. Strong leaders understand this threat and respond by providing a clear purpose for their team to embrace and rally around. In the business community the most well established approach for providing a clarity of purpose is the … Read More

The BP Spill: A Consequence of Bad Strategy

“A company can’t prioritize everything, and while BP was prioritizing PR and acquisitions, it wasn’t prioritizing operations.” Holman Jenkins, WSJ A preventable catastrophe is unfolding along our Gulf shores and much of the region is going to suffer for years.  Who’s to blame? The easier question may be who isn’t to blame. However, one thing is clear; a combination of bad politics, policy, and corporate leadership can claim a significant portion of the responsibility. My concern focuses on corporate leadership, and their role in allowing such a massive operational failure. The Weekly Standard has an excellent article titled “Beyond Pathetic”.  The Standard is a conservative magazine so be prepared for jolts of politics throughout the article.  However, from a business perspective the article is a fascinating study on poor executive leadership and how its failure to prioritize operations into the company strategy has led to an unmitigated disaster. Much of this is from Oberon Houston’s perspective.  He was an engineer who resigned from BP in early 2004 for reasons summarized below. “In short, Houston no longer trusted the company to do the right thing. As someone who grew up idolizing the company, he came to the reluctant conclusion that BP itself … Read More

The Strategy Focused Organization (Part 3): Mobilize Change Through Executive Leadership

Today’s CEO is wrestling with unique market challenges.    These challenges have forced many leaders and employees to question current business models and are looking at change not as a threat but as a necessity.  This openness to change provides an opportunity to inspire their team to a better destination.  However, many changes are complex and can reach to the heart of the company culture. Therefore, strong executive leadership from the CEO is required to overcome these obstacles and fuel the company’s transformation. The CEO must first define that destination, and understand the characteristics the company must have in order to reach it.  Those are the responsibilities unique to the CEO that cannot be replaced by consultants or even the most gifted employees. Strategic planning provides the framework to ensure the destination is defined and the path clearly mapped out.  Strategic planning accomplishes this by providing essential focus that is needed regardless of the size or complexity of an organization.  This focus allows companies to compete based on their strengths, and increases agility, empowering them to outmaneuver less focused competitors. The CEO must also reestablish the cultural foundation of the organization.  Through establishing a vision, mission, and values that the CEO … Read More