We remain somewhat surrounded by a hard-core cohort of chronically unemployed, who've been enduring endless months without work or flitting through a series of short-lived jobs, each one a step down from the previous adventure. We are plagued by the sad spectacle in the midst of a crippling talent shortage in supply chain management, but the challenge also affects manufacturing—in fact, all business operations.
At almost any gathering in which introductions are de rigeur, one after another rises to announce something like "My name is Aloysius and I am in transition." The callous cynic asks, "Transition to what, exactly?" Buying a red rubber nose and floppy shoes to sign on with Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey? Why can we not say things like "I am between jobs." Or "I'm looking for a new job with more challenge?"GETTING FROM THERE TO HERE
Never mind all that. The real question is what factors have put people into such uncomfortable situations. I've written and spoken often about some of them, but a recap might be helpful.
A major issue is the failure of the lumberjack (or lumberjill—this is not a gender-specific condition) to keep his/her ax sharp. Face it: Anyone facing 21st century needs with a 20th century toolkit is at a distinct disadvantage. A Phillips-head screwdriver is no longer advanced technology, and anyone who has not been on a continuous learning path risks looking like a rube among the Princeton faculty when competing with a recent graduate.
The argument that evil corporations are looking to hire talent at the lowest possible price is a lazy copout for not having kept up. They are buying talent, current knowledge, and potential at market rates. The amateur HR mavens who complain about age discrimination are often way off the mark in this equation.
There's more, of course. Bad enough that the more mature candidate shows up with a knowledge base that is the practitioner's equivalent of a polyester Nehru jacket. Worse is that he/she equates tenure with market value. Thirty years on the job and not knowing how to use pivot tables in Excel is not going to command top dollar.
A huge issue is how an individual views his/her role: Is it a matter of performing a specific job function well, or is it a series of assignments of challenge, import, and diversity that further the performance—financially and operationally—of the entire enterprise? The enterprise perspective will trump limited technical skills in any enlightened organization that is on an upward trajectory. A company that does not value the broader view might not be the place to be for the long haul.
On a related topic, when the choice comes down to candidates who are somewhat equivalent, the one who can demonstrate accomplishment, measurable outcomes, and enterprise impact will crush a talented competitor who can only talk about titles, responsibilities, and number of direct reports. And often, an employer will select a less-experienced candidate who shows promise in the realm of delivering outcomes, when the 30-year veteran has not yet learned how to couch his/her experience in terms of concrete results.SAM, YOU MADE THE PANTS TOO LONG
There is a basketful of little things that make a difference: enthusiasm, attitude, flexibility, and fluency of communications. But there is one major factor that very few like to talk about, though it's as real as things get: fit. That is, does the person's attitude and work style match the workplace's prevailing culture?
This is not to say that everyone in a company has to be poured from the same mold. There are such organizations, and although they can prosper for some time, they sooner or later collapse because they contain no internal counterbalances.
It's important to note that the fit has to be genuine. Too often, the by-now-desperate job seeker will adopt positions that seem to fit a prevailing culture in order to get the job. Get real; you can only fake this stuff for so long. When the charade is over, so is the job. When neither the company nor the candidate understands the importance of fit, the eventual day of reckoning can get ugly.
But when approached the right way, "fitness" tests can be used to enormous strategic advantage. For instance, one company, which will remain nameless, is in its fifth decade of growth and profitability, and has used tests of fit from Day One to get the right people. Its reasoning is simple and clear: The right people will be happy and make their customers happy. The right people will make the company a winner, day after day, every day.
The company doesn't try to make all of its people look and think alike in all things. But it does obsessively look for three elements of fit that have proved to be the keys to win-win-win relationships with the company, its employees, and its customers.
That's right. Only three things out of the many that might be evaluated. It's a given that any candidate must be functionally qualified for the position in question. Charm is no substitute for proficiency at the moment of truth.
The company's hiring criteria focus on elements that are integral to corporate values. One is what it calls a warrior spirit, a desire to excel, to be courageous, to innovate, and to stay at it (persevere).
Another is a servant's heart, being proactive, treating everyone—even certifiable idiots—with respect, and putting others (colleagues and customers) first. The third is being fun-loving, not taking oneself seriously, showing joy, and acting and doing things with passion.
The core of evaluating these is not, even though they are written and are integral to corporate culture and values, to see if applicants agree with them, but to determine if the candidate is already living them.BOTTOM LINE
How important are these? Important enough that a job will go unfilled until someone with the right fit appears. And these values are baked into performance appraisals and evaluations for promotion. This is one industry leader's approach to acquiring and keeping the best talent. The strategy is paying off for it, and no one in its industry vertical comes close.
It's an amazingly powerful way of getting people who don't think they have a job, but do have a calling—one they can be proud of.
So, everyone in transition is not going to find a counterpart employer. But they can stand out from the crowd by demonstrating passion, a servant mentality, a sense of humor (forget the one-liners, though), courage, and a tirelessly innovative spirit.
I'll submit that our profession is, in fact, a calling. To not treat it as such might mean that "in transition" ought to indicate a career change is in order.