The hunt for senior-level executives and directors has heated up recently, indicating to me that we may be seeing the beginning of the end of this short recession. In my experience, organizations almost always anticipate hiring and growth by bringing in top management to pave the way. I know of firms seeking vice presidents of sales and of marketing, and many looking for key R&D talent. Sectors still largely unscathed by the recession – healthcare, pharmaceuticals, biotech, legal, and security firms – are already seeing their talent pool shrink. By early summer, I am confident we will be at the cusp of another hiring frenzy – but one with several major differences from the past. These differences will permanently change the way we recruit. Prove It To Me Mentality The first change is that many candidates are reluctant to work under the same conditions they would have a few months ago. Candidates are doing more due diligence, taking the time to find out what a company’s finances look like and what the prospects are for future funding. They won’t take a recruiter’s promise of strong funding and good prospects at face value, or a hiring manager’s either, for that matter. Many are savvy enough to comb through public documents, read analysts reports, or make phone calls to their stockbroker to get the information that will help them decide. Recruiters are going to have to be very upfront about the firm’s financial situation and be prepared to offset negativity with better pay or other benefits. This is new behavior for everyone except senior-level management, who have been operating this way for decades. In fact, the cascade of expectations down to lower-level employees may be a major legacy of the dot-com bust, the recession, and our “info-mated” world. Key technical staff, managers, even supervisors, are expecting and will negotiate for packages that would have been offered only to vice presidents a year ago. Free Agency While some thought this recession would end the trend toward free agency, I really believe it has accelerated the trend. More people than ever are trying out life as a contractor. Many won’t make it and will return to the corporate fold, but they will be wiser and better prepared to abandon ship than they were before. Many others will find they would rather work on their own than go back under the very insecure and fragile corporate umbrella. If you look at the top companies on Fortune’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” you will find that almost all are companies that haven’t had layoffs or have increased the number of employees over the past year. In a quick look at the top six, companies like SAS Institute and Xilinx do everything possible to avoid losing intellectual capital. They have CEOs who actively speak out against layoffs and run their businesses conservatively. It’s going to get very hard to make this list if you have large layoffs. Charles Handy, a management writer and educator who has written numerous books on the organizations of the future, predicted that up to half of some companies’ talent may eventually work as free agents, contracting to those firms as temporary staff, contractors, or part-timers. This will be a lasting change that is accelerated because of the recession. Recruiters and HR staff will have to accommodate these free agents. Our internal regulations will have to be modified to make the use of contractors legal and compliant with IRS regulations. It may be necessary to develop “holding companies” for supplying them with employees. I would certainly like to hear from any of you who are creativity dealing with free agency (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org). A Return to Values Lots of candidates are seeking companies that hold values high and make (and keep) commitments to their employees and their families. Carley Fiorini, CEO of HP, has come under heavy fire from employees who accuse her of focusing on shareholder value and not on upholding “The HP Way.” There has been a growing awareness of the need for a more moral approach to how corporations conduct themselves, and the generation Y young people who are entering the workplace right now have much higher expectations than the baby boomers ever did. While shareholder value will always be a core concern of the management team, they will also have to understand how important employees feel that values are, and how close a scrutiny they will give every corporate action and statement. Recruiters have to understand the values of the firms they work for and find better ways to match people to those values. They will also have to convince the management of firms that what they DO is just as important as what they say – and that this emerging candidate pool focuses on actions almost entirely. Flexibility Finally, those entering the workplace now for the first time or who are coming back again are seeking a flexible relationship with the company. Free agency will become even more enticing than it already is unless employers are willing to offer flexible benefit schemes, allow employees to work from home, provide time off for family events and other life events, and aggressively develop their people. Again, the Fortune list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” points out clearly how those at the top of this list (which is actually probably fifty companies too long) focus on all of the points I have raised. Fewer than ever will be willing to toil long, fixed hours for a shareholder-loving, employee-neutral management team and then be disposed of as the economy dictates.
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