It’s Not My Fault

Reader Steve Portman wrote, “I keep reading in The Fordyce Letter and hearing from my colleagues that business is rebounding. Our assignment flow is increasing every day but our revenues have remained basically the same. Deals get off the ground but seem to go nowhere. When I look into why the deals soured, I constantly hear “It’s not my fault.” I’m close to cleaning house. Any comments or suggestions?”

No matter what happens lately, you can be assured that someone will come up with an excuse to absolve themselves from blame.

Accountability and responsibility are becoming rare commodities. If you don’t believe it, just look at the news. It’s not much different for our business.

Typical excuses heard by managers from their consultants are:

“It’s not my fault – the economy’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

“It’s not my fault – candidate’s just aren’t accepting offers”

“It’s not my fault – employers are getting pickier.”

“It’s not my fault – candidates are getting choosier.”

“It’s not my fault – the training materials are wrong (or old . . . or non-existent).”

“It’s not my fault – my office has no window.”

“It’s not my fault – my cubicle is too noisy.”

“It’s not my fault – the competition is unfair.”

“It’s not my fault – my boss won’t get off my back.”

Over the years, we’ve conducted time studies of consultant activities and consistently find that, on average, consultants spend only two productive hours per day.

Someone once said, “Show me a mediocre performer and I’ll show you a person with the backbone of an eclair.”

So many things can contaminate the process of goal achievement. Distraction is a major plague in our business. The winners have laser-like focus on those activities that produce revenue and disdain for those activities which don’t.

Conversations with owners of successful firms consistently confirm that the big billers tend to be “loners” during productive hours. They aren’t dullards or drones but when they work, they work . . . when they play, they play hard . . . and with the same focus they show for their working hours.

Ours is a distracting business for the unplanned. One star performer called her activities organized bedlam which could easily degenerate into incoherent lunacy, if permitted.

No one advocates a “monk-like” existence at the office but there are some telltale signs to tip you off to those time-wasters that can negatively impact on consultant production.? Things to look for (in your consultants or yourself):

Long, time-consuming interviews with non-recruited applicants (candidates are different).

We don’t recommend rudeness, but many consultants love to conduct in-depth interviews with people they have no chance of placing just because they can delude themselves into thinking that they’re busy and it keeps them from those less attractive tasks that produce revenue. A good recruiter can normally assess the usefulness of an interview within the first five minutes. Ask yourself if further time could be better spent in contacting potential clients or recruiting against existing priority openings.

Any interviews with unscheduled applicants.

Once your firm’s name hits the Yellow Pages or any other list of recruiting firms you’ll have people walking through your door, emailing you or calling you on the phone, expecting to be serviced. Unless you are a traditional employment (placement) agency, the majority of these walk-ins will waste valuable time.

You can’t walk into your doctor – lawyer – accountant’s office without a pre-set appointment and people shouldn’t expect you to stop what you’re doing either. Have your receptionist/secretary/administrative assistant take their resume or give them an application to complete and return. You may want to interview them at some point in time, but you set the time . . . not them.

You may also request that the phone company not show your street address with your listing which forces people to call first for appointments.

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Any phone call lasting more than five minutes.

Unless they’re getting an assignment, recruiting a candidate or closing a deal with an employer or candidate, there is rarely an excuse for longwindedness.

Inordinate lingering in the files or on the computer . . . either candidate or job order files.

With rare exceptions, this is an activity to be conducted during non-productive hours. If your files are computerized, the linger time may be shortened but don’t loiter if your time could be better utilized in more productive pursuits. CheckNet has determined that nearly 25% of online time is non-work related.

Talking with other consultants.

Non-work-related chit-chat may have its place in life, but not during productive hours. Most intra-office conversation is not work related.

Talking with you, the owner or manager.

See above. If you must speak with a consultant, do it early, late or during the lunch hour. Although there may be exceptions, they are rare.

Writing (or re-writing) resumes or letters.

This is spare-time duty unless you have an administrative person to do it. If you have a standard format for resume reconstruction, give the template to the candidate and let them re-write it.

Copying anything.

Ah, the wonders of xerography. Why make one copy when two are so easy. Copying anything is not consultant work.

Daydreaming.

It’s not hard to tell when someone is mentally somewhere else. A nudge or a question can quickly get them back to reality.

We’ve all known consultants who arrive early, stay late, work weekends and still wallow in mediocrity because just “putting in time” on the job doesn’t cut it. We’re paid only so long as we produce. Whether contingency or retained, clients utilize us to solve problems by filling jobs. Any peripheral activity which diminishes that ability should be abolished.

It’s management’s fault when consultants spin their wheels. We’re not talking sweatshop, but people in our business are paid when they make placements. Even on the retained side, if jobs aren’t filled, clients evaporate. This is a stressful, pressure-filled business and as one hard-nosed manager told us, “Without constant pressure, a diamond is nothing more than a lump of coal.” Set your sights high and don’t vacillate. They can find an infinite number of things, people or conditions to “blame” – but your job, as the manager, is to find the parade and point out the front of it to them.

Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.

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