A Time of Opportunity

I’m not sure how you are feeling these days, but I am tired of the laments about how bad things are. Certainly, this past year has been one of stress for our profession, our economy, and our political systems. Somewhere a window opened and let out the comforts and habits of the 20th century. Many of the things we took for granted – a steady economy, a rising stock market, lower prices, and a booming job market – have changed direction, at least for a while.

Compared to other times and places (for example Iraq, the Great Depression, World War I and II) things are actually pretty good. Most of us have jobs, food, careers, education, and many opportunities. For the unfortunate, there are safety nets and far more programs to assist them than ever before. There is a time for all things and this series of layoffs, downsizing, and recalibrating is as necessary a part of the cycle of life as are the seasons.

Change is a messy, painful, and tiring process but it almost always leads to something better. The changes that will follow this recessionary time will bring renewal and energy to our professional and personal lives. I cannot do much about how your organization is faring or how it deals with change, but I can offer you some tips about coping with your own change process.

Unwanted change causes very definite behavioral patterns to emerge.

Psychologists who have studied and documented the change process describe four distinctive phases we have to pass through to complete a change cycle.

Phase 1 is denial:

Many of us saw the recession coming but denied it. We saw job openings decrease and heard the rumors in our own organizations about how sales were down. The normal reaction is to discount those stories. In our professional lives, we have been barraged with new ideas, tools, and approaches to our established routines.

Again, most of us have had the tendency to discount their importance. Over my career, I have heard applicant tracking systems, the Internet, and social networking all dismissed as fads.

While many of us know intellectually that many of these tools and processes are useful, we cannot accept the change they bring. Whether thinking about our careers, jobs, or the tools we use there is no more denying that the changes have come and are real and permanent.

  • Get the facts, do some research, and make a decision based on data and facts about whether the things you are seeing are real, useful, and whether they need to be acted on.
  • Don’t hide in the sand or hope things will just get better by themselves. Your actions will make things better or worse – nothing else.

Phase 2 is resistance:

Even when we have the information we need, we still often push back. We refuse to use the tools or we complain loudly about their shortfalls. We argue about what is happening and we dig in our heels and try to hang on to the past as hard as we can. It is very difficult to accept change and overcome your own dislikes and lack of comfort with the new tools, processes, or even with the need to find a new job.

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  • Take small steps and try one new tool or process and keep at it for a while. Network with others and see how they are using it. Check in with candidates and hiring managers about how they feel. Not everything is useful, but many can make a significant difference to how you do your job.
  • Some of these tools might help you cope with a smaller staff or with the loss of outside assistance.

Phase 3 is exploration:

Very few of us are able to just jump into new solutions without any concern or hesitation. Most of us tend to be overly cautious and adverse to any changes. You know you are entering this stage of the change process when you begin to make small changes. For example, you start experimenting with minor process improvements or decide to do without replacing a sourcer or you adopt a new technology you are unsure about.

Exploration is the step when you may try and discard many approaches – and that’s perfectly okay to do. In fact, it’s the right way to make change happen. Not everything is going to be successful or right for your situation.

  • Think of positive ways to incorporate new applications or tools into your routine on a regular basis. That makes the changes less dramatic and gives you time to learn how to use them well.
  • Establish some objective assessment criteria to be able to better judge whether or not the new approach is working.
  • Reward anyone on your team who tries a new approach, tool, idea.

Phase 4 is commitment:

Eventually you will come to see these new approaches as normal and you will have a hard time even remembering the old days and the old ways. New tools become “old” tools and we feel comfortable with the processes, assumptions and ideas that have evolved over some period of time. This becomes the new norm.

  • Don’t stop here. Continue to experiment and try new things – even when you have just adopted something.
  • Continuously scan the environment for changes, trends, new products and solutions.
  • Complacency is your biggest enemy!

The slow times will pass and recruiting will ramp up almost without warning. Use this time to learn, adopt, examine your own practices, and make the changes you think will make a difference. As we emerge from this recession, the entire recruiting profession will look different, be run differently, use different tools, and be based on different assumptions than it was.

There is nothing to be gained in crying about how bad things are. Grab the opportunities and profit from these changing times.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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10 Comments on “A Time of Opportunity

  1. Thank you Kevin. You remind us that like in nature, trees bend in stormy winds. Some wither, some break, and some prosper having made it through the storm. And like those persistent trees, what doesn’t break us serves to make us grow. Somehow become better than we were before.

  2. Ya know it’s -1 degree on my handy outside temp reading, and I woke up today in a kind of pissed off mood to start with- made a little worse when I see claims that Willy Pete has been used on a UN building in Gaza, finally to see this article dead center on my home page (because that’s where I put ERE and RB).

    I appreciate positive thinking and I know it’s important that negative spin not get out of control, but I take exception to this line with some vigor:

    “Compared to other times and places (for example Iraq, the Great Depression, World War I and II) things are actually pretty good.”

    Really? That’s supposed to mean something, even if it were true, which is highly questionable?

    Kevin you need to wake up. There is real pain, anger, and fear in the land and it did not just start in 2008. Maybe in your closeted world everything was going along hunky-dory, but you have not had eyes to see what’s really been happening.

    This country has probably not been in this bad a shape in our entire history. Sure there was massive pain and dislocation in the Depression, and many brave (and not so brave) Americans have died in war, but even in those times we were the power and envy of the world, with strong institutions, a reasonably egalitarian society, and a clear brand of freedom, unity, can-do accomplishment, and unimaginable wealth, even in the Depression.

    Now, in contrast, every institution in our land is suspect; we are divided by class and religion, our brand is in tatters because it turns out we are like every other nation where power is the coin of the realm: our coward in chief thought it would be a good idea to torture people, and our financial leaders were all a bunch of crooks or morons, take your pick.

    It’s bad enough that it seems that the whole thing is now riding on the skinny shoulders of one man, and no matter how fine a man he may be, that says things are not “pretty good”.

    Things suck, to be frank.

    Now, I do have faith that things will turn, the American brand will come back (somewhat), and lots and lots of Americans will have a better understanding of what we need to do…we still have vast wealth and power, and hundreds of millions of fine people who do care about their brothers and sisters…. But the faith is not so much with me this morning.

  3. Kevin – what struck me the most about your post today is that so much of how we respond to things is within our control. It may not be our ideal situation, there may be a significant amount of fear and discomfort associated with it, but in the end its how we embrace it that really matters. Its human nature to want comfort and how we each define what that looks like and how we will attain it is as diverse as the planet itself. We are living in a time of tremendous opportunity – just not perhaps as we each may have anticipated the timing and personal impact it brings. Yes, these are difficult times for many and one could say that there is even much uncertainty for the future of our country because things often are never the same after going through such tremendous upheaval. And yet, if we approach each day with fear, resistance and hesitation we miss a lot of what is presented to us. If instead, we can get a little more comfortable with uncertainty, be open to thinking differently and adopt a broader perspective on the world, we can not only positively influence changes in our work environment and recruitment practices but, more importantly, in our selves – which is where the real change begins.

  4. Kudos to you Martin for calling Kevin on the carpet. He’s drinkin’ someone’s Kool-Aid. Especially the comment about the “safety nets”. Kevin, obviously you have a nest egg somewhere that hasn’t been stolen, mismanaged or maybe you’re one of them? We all need to stop stickin’ our heads in the sand and call the leaders of these firms for what they are – CROOKS! You guys are all playing into the hands of the crooks when you try and pacify people who have been trashed by the very people who are funding the scams. I personally know people who are in financial ruin and there’s not one damn safety net in place for them – Kevin! How would you like it if your entire savings disappeared and you are 50 years old and out of the workforce for 5 years. Tell me anyone would speak to you about a job? And for your safety nets, I assume you’re referring to unemployment (maximum of $400/week in NY and they’ll be out of funds in only a few weeks?) Maybe you can find a soup kitchen that will employ my friend? You people need to wake up and realize that it’s not roses, it’s roadapples you’re being fed!

  5. Hi Kevin & everyone here. Another excellent article – thank you.

    I have used the model above for many years in management development sessions. FYI I always teach it within an activity I designed and it may be of use to ERE.net members to think about this as way to introduce it also to their personnel.

    Firstly, this makes the theory alive, obvious and thus powerful. An analysis based activity with lots of energetic and fun debates, where the participants can role-play as team members, and other change stakeholders, working in terms of their own thinking-style preferences, assumptions, concerns and motivators. “Pollyannaism”, apathy, anger and intentionally active-destructive behaviours are all explored. Stakeholder responses are also hypothesized, and amusing conversations certainly result.

    Then the group’s efforts must turn to what may be done to prevent unnecessary loss of staff, or productivity, or whatever is the goal. Knowing the theory intellectually is one thing, really noticing and interpreting the behaviours that are exhibited and how to gain leverage to do what is most effective, is entirely another level of competence. Especially as the participating manager in a change event is no doubt sitting somewhere in the curve themselves at the time they are trying to hold it all together!

    Whilst we are here, my other very favourite change model is the “Change Equation” or Gleicher’s Formula: DVF > R. Meaning? Dissatisfaction, Vision of the future, taking the First Early steps and small wins, will eventually become greater than, and thus overcome, Resistance.

    Sometimes it is necessary to raise the awareness, or even the reality of the dissatisfaction to move forward. That’s a challenge! Just for fun, I trialed using these both, increasing the dissatisfaction level in a personal, home-teenager situation and supporting the movement through the curve – and it worked absolutely brilliantly. (NB: Don’t bother explaining it afterwards to the teenager BTW, they get really put-out to think they were a part of their mother’s experiments with management theories. I can’t imagine why…)

    Kind Regards from sunny Australia
    Karen Dempster – Creating Change

  6. “There is nothing to be gained in crying about how bad things are.”
    I disagree- before we can move ahead with your life, we usually have to acknowledge what we’ve lost. An important lesson to remember (now and in the future): If we are working for someone else and do not have some sort of a “golden handcuff” WE ARE COMPLETELY DISPENSIBLE, and loyalty = cashflow.

    Let our sadness become righteous indignation to spark our drive and creativity- I am happy to brainstorm/form an ERE Group with anyone on how we may use our transferable skills to get us through these times.

    Keith “Won’t Get Fooled Again” Halperin keithsrj@sbcglobal.net 415.586.8265

    The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again – with lyrics

    Just like yesterday
    Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
    We don’t get fooled again
    Don’t get fooled again

    -Pete Townsend, 1971
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LabxxEgMTjo&feature=related

  7. Keith we have to save capitalism from what could be a killing disease….FDR and the New Deal were not so much about the numbers as about the attitudes.

    Right now, the attitudes (like mine last week) are getting ugly; we have to get back to a (more) egalitarian society where we understand that those who are able to gather more money are not always superior beings- while they may indeed be, they also may be lucky, or scamming, or taking advantage of distorted values.

    We have to introduce some shame back into absurd consumption, extreme selfishness, and the exploiting of the commons- its only thru moral strength that capitalism can be strong- without it, the money will all run to one corner and freedom will evaporate.

    I will avoid the dreary politics, but we don’t have to do anything that we dont already know about; work hard, save, be charitable and peaceful in our private and public lives, consume with care, and treat our brothers and sisters as the equals that they are without over-regard for social class.

    Yes its important to have standards, but its also important to provide for social mobility and to understand that ossified societies are dying societies.

    In hiring, that means less emphasis on how people speak, what they wear, and where they went to school (if at all…runaway credentialism is a sure sign of ossification)and lower profits dues to greater training and development costs. In daily living, it means fewer gated communities, luxury offerings across the board, and probably most important of all; a fair educational shot for all- understanding that the less advantaged among us require dramatically greater educational investment to have that fair shot.

    That’s some hard stuff that few of us want to deal with, but thats what is needed to save capitialism’s bacon.

    On a nuts and bolts level, solving or mitigating the energy and healthcare problems by themselves would create untold wealth with which to a) recast our nation or b) party on. We need to decide, deep down, and for real…..

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