The Connector’s Departure

John Q. Gladwell’s departure from Do It Right! Extrusion (DIRE) didn’t seem like such a big issue at the time.

On the afternoon of the morning that John was let go, a Friday, most people were too busy anticipating the weekend fun to actually miss him. He managed the administration function for his division, and he wasn’t the most inspiring of people, so he was easily mistaken for an office plant.

Then, about two years ago, people discovered that for some strange reason John-in-admin knew this new “social networking” area very well. He had connections in the most obscure locations, and for a fleeting moment his star burned brightly.

If you needed to get at someone in the industry, or contact a potential hire in a competitor, John was the go-to guy. He was always happy to help, but as everyone in the company joined LinkedIn and Xing, his star gradually declined.

Management noted the time spent with social networking, and decided that it was not time well spent.

A Weak Start

The regular Friday management meeting started early, and Do It Right! Extrusion’s CEO said that the challenge was getting sales in a market that was in serious decline. The sales manager stepped right in, and assured the team that he was on top of things. In fact, he said, there were rumors that Aluminum Windows was fishing about for new vendors, and he wanted to open that door as soon as he could.

‘You just get me inside that company’, he declared, ‘and I’ll get the sale!’ So he asked everyone to search through their personal and professional networks for a contact that would open the door.

Everyone agreed to look.

Back in her corner office, the marketing director, Patsy Cline, vaguely remembered an introduction request from someone who wanted to contact the Aluminum Windows Purchasing Director. So Patsy knew the Purchasing Director should be in her LinkedIn network. When she checked Linkedin, she couldn’t find anyone in purchasing in Aluminum Windows, and only a few people in the company at all.

Never mind, she thought. Someone else can probably get to her.

Bob, in Accounting, did a few quick searches but nothing came up either. But the good news was that his searches on LinkedIn seemed to run a bit faster than usual. Must be an improvement in our broadband Internet access, he thought to himself. The water cooler beckoned, and his search was abandoned.

Jean, in production planning, ignored the request from the Sales Manager on principle. Helping salespeople was never a good idea, she thought. Salespeople made too much money and sold things before production could actually produce. And they never stopped talking!

She closed her copy of Weekly Engineering Solutions, and opened up her account on the new Aluminum Windows social network. Her company seemed to be getting some attention, and not all of it was good. She quickly switched over to the internal Do It Right! Extrusion micro-blogging network that had been set up on Yammer, and found that a few staff were talking about the negative buzz on the new Aluminum Windows social network.

“Hmm”, she wondered “Why now?”

Rapid Decline

A world away, in the next room, John Q. Gladwell had been working away quietly on his laptop.

First, he opened his connections page on Linkedin and went to ‘Remove Connections’. One by one he disconnected from everyone in Do It Right! Extrusion. This amounted to about 50 people, and out of his total connection base of 22 million people he lost only about a quarter of a million second- and third-level contacts. He figured he could get many of those back with a little additional online schmoozing.

Once severed, however, he knew the direct contacts could never be re-connected. Not unless you knew the contact’s other email addresses, and John used only one email address for all his online activities. John had the skills to find alternate email addresses for those who later resigned from Do It Right! Extrusion, but he knew that his colleagues were not quite so savvy.

When he was finished on Linkedin, he opened up his MySpace, Xing, Facebook, and Viadeo accounts. He repeated the process again, in a systematic and deliberate way. No hurry.

On the afternoon of the morning that John was let go, John’s extensive subscriptions on Google Reader led him to a number of sites where he knew industry people went online to communicate and collaborate. He set up a new account for an anonymous poster called AluminumGuy, and made precise, surgical cuts in the market perceptions about Do It Right! Extrusion.

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He targeted their ability to deliver, the quality of their raw materials, and so on. Nothing too strong, just a few rumors, and certainly nothing that would indicate that AluminumGuy was anything other than a dispassionate observer.

Two hours a day for a month. That should do it.

It took John a little while longer to figure out what to do with his Twitter account. He never was a big fan of micro-blogging but he finally figured out the subtle art of the lob. He settled on the idea of the odd Tweet that linked to an article that he had posted on user-generated news sites like Memeorandum, Newsvine, Helium, or Now Public. He had only 75 followers on Twitter, and hadn’t spent much time on user-generated news sites, but he thought he would have a lot of time on his hands in the future.

Closing the internal Do It Right! Extrusion micro-blogging network on Yammer was his initial call, but he quickly realized that the site would soon be rebuilt by some enterprising individual in the IT dept. John was the administrator, and could do as he pleased, but he did not have to go immediately to the nuclear option.

He decided that he would put the Yammer network aside until later in the evening, and quietly cut one or two senior staff while all the subscribers were busy at the weekly Friday Beer Bust. He didn’t have much visibility beyond the people his own division, but the organization chart function in Yammer made it easier for him to decide who to start with.

On the afternoon of the morning that John was let go, John’s Aluminum Windows social network on Ning had only a few members. The numbers were increasing and John had time to think about how to use this particular tool. Probably a few more incisions, he thought.

John’s mind worked overtime throughout the afternoon. He felt that he had made a good start, but short-term actions were not enough to satisfy him. Questioning the authenticity of online profiles for staff in Do It Right! Extrusion could come later. All he had to do was figure out how to do it with a high degree of anonymity. If all went to plan he might not have to use an unethical method like this one.

Death By Networks

Do It Right! Extrusion never did make a connection to the Purchasing Director of Aluminum Windows. Business would drift lower, and no one would be able to identify a specific causation. Everyone agreed it was probably the economy.

On the afternoon of the morning that John was let go, the Purchasing Director of Aluminum Windows was very busy, signing off on a new Approved Vendor List for 2009. So it might have been difficult for the Sales Manager at Do It Right! Extrusion to get her attention anyway, even if he had the skills to close a sale.

The Purchasing Director felt that time on social networks was well spent. She restricted her contacts on LinkedIn exclusively to people who could supply material and components to her company. Facebook is where she played around with friends.

Xing was where she connected with the family from the old country — Germany. Someone had recently told her about a new social network especially for the Aluminum Windows industry, and she thought she might check it out later that evening.

On the afternoon of the morning that John was let go by Do It Right! Extrusion, he made direct contact with the purchasing director of Aluminum Windows, who put him in contact with the human resources director of the company, who interviewed him together with the IT director.

They hired Mr. Gladwell the next Friday for a new role in the company: Social Networking Manager.

Frank Mulligan is the China Director for Accetis International, an international search practice headquartered in Paris. He is also the founder of Talent Software, which offered China’s first Applicant Tracking Systems in both English and Chinese, and started one of China’s earliest job boards, Recruit China. He has lived in China for over 13 years in both Beijing and Shanghai, Before starting Talent Software, Frank was the Chief Representative of Norman Broadbent Executive Search in China, 1st Secretary (Commercial) for the Irish Embassy in Beijing, and Strategic Planning Manager, Siemens, Ltd. China. Frank operates two blogs and hosts an online TV programme that covers HR issues in Asia, with a specific focus on China. Please visit Talent Software Blog and “ERE’s Talent in China” for additional information and expert specialization on all things related to China’s complex business, social and staffing infrastructures.

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8 Comments on “The Connector’s Departure

  1. “Everyone agreed to look.

    When she checked Linkedin, she couldn’t find anyone in purchasing in Aluminum Windows, and only a few people in the company at all. Never mind, she thought. Someone else can probably get to her.

    The water cooler beckoned, and his search was abandoned.

    Jean, in production planning, ignored the request from the Sales Manager on principle.”

    A good, real-world scenario.

  2. Frank, Excellent story…
    You did forget one part though.. its when the talent acquisitions manager, while waiting for all the co-workers to search through their contacts, actually picked up the phone, called the company directly and asked for the name of the Purchasing Director. The Purchasing Director answered the phone, since now a days they get far more in-mails then calls, and the conversation, personal as it was, voice to voice, turned into a start to a real relationship. Social networking is truly amazing…but without a phone… its not as powerful as a real conversation. Use both. As Krista Bradford suggests: “A email takes the cold out of the call and a call takes the email out of Spam”. Wise words for sure.

  3. Nice reply Nancy. Nobody loves to blog and comment more than me, but I dont confuse the cart and the horse; If my extrusions are the best available for the money, the social networking will take care of itself one way or another.

    And as far as John flaming me all over the web: I dont care what you say about me, as long as you are talking about me !

  4. I agree with Nancy. The story is very good with a point well taken – be very careful about who you terminate and reasons. If John was seen as invaluable because of his “computer time” then he was sorely underestimated. I have seen small businesses collapse because someone who was thought to be “just there” or is “easily replaceable” or “non strategic” actually had key knowledge and made very important, yet less visible contributions. Unfortunately, this happens more often than not. And many times, the ending is exactly what was noted – they work for competitors or start their own companies. John was not the right person to reduce in a layoff, his employer is very shortsighted.

    To Nancy’s point, a good sales or marketing person will be able to get to the purchasing manager. In fact, too often those managers are circumvented because they do exactly what that Manager does – limit the circle which also has the effect of limiting the competitive bid and quality of newer or other vendors. That type of limitation tends to hurt companies in many ways. The point, however, that the Purchasing Manager was connected in other ways is also well taken. In addition to the fact, that having connections in other areas via social networking could have led to an introduction anyway.

    Social networking is another tool, not the be all or end all of communication. With some of Shally (JobMachine) Steckerl’s techniques a person can easily find people whether they are on LinkedIN and part of the network or not. Plus there are numerous phone and other internet search techniques that will turn up the desired contacts quickly. Pick up the phone and CALL. Purchasing is probably one of the most accessible departments along with Sales! If you don’t get in one way, there is always another.

    This example company deserved to fail because clearly they may have a good product, but are very mediocre in their marketing, networking, and employee assessment capability. 🙂 One other small note, using social media to flame former associates and posting company information can lead to serious legal issues…again, the point is well taken.

    Nice illustrative example!

  5. Rachel, you hit an intersting point about both performance management and pre-hire assessment; namely that you can’t assess individuals apart from the groups that they operate within. One prima dona may be great to motivate a team, but two can destroy one. One connector can be important to bring a team together, but two may be a waste of money.

    Some workers may produce very little by way of measurable output, but they may be the ones that keep others on task and looking toward the goals at hand……

    I have known more than one salesperson whose production falls of a cliff when a favorite admin goes away, and I have seen whole groups of software engineers change attitudes and performance via the addition or subtraction of a single player…..how is assessment or performance review practice going to describe those real-world effects ?

  6. The two valuable lessons I got from the article are:
    1) Treat people decently
    2) Make sure no one is indespensible to your operation.

    Cheers,

    Keith “Restating the Obvious Since the 20th Century” Halperin

  7. Nancy is right on. Pick up the phone and surprise them.. You’ll get a lot of good information and actually create a relationship BSing about their city, weather, etc.. This is why top headhunters will continue to bill in this market where college graduates now think it is “intrusive” to call someone cold rather the send then a text..

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