They sometimes say that in the business world “your network is your net worth.” There’s a lot of truth in that idea and it’s been that way since, well, probably since commerce was invented centuries ago. What is different now is how we network and the countless ways that we connect. Technology has changed everything: access to your network isn’t a stack of business cards or in a rolodex. (Remember them?) It’s on line. Connecting with the right people is a business imperative for every professional but for those of us in the diversity business community it’s especially so. Companies are always interested in promoting their Supplier Diversity Programs and finding qualified MBEs to work with, and MBE owners are always trying to raise their profile and find opportunities to serve new clients. Social media has expanded the choices for how we network. It’s made it both easier, and occasionally more difficult, to connect with people.
LinkedIn has quickly become the go to online resource for business networking, giving us access to people at our fingertips and the possibility of an introduction or connection with someone we want to know. Its growth is phenomenal and its potential power is impressive but how do you tap into it? How do you make quality connections and begin to develop trusted business relationships? How do you promote yourself and your program in a way that increases your visibility and helps you develop new diversity supplier relationships? It starts very simply with how you decide who to connect with; who you send invitations to and who you will hit the accept button on.
Let’s talk about the bad stuff first. All those requests to connect! Do I know this person? From a conference or was it school or did I used to work with them? Are they just going to immediately bombard me with requests to start using their product or services? (People, this is a LinkedIn NO, NO! Build a relationship before you ever consider a business request.) Oh, it’s an industry colleague or an MBE in our area, maybe they could be useful for me to get to know. Maybe I should accept. How can I tell?
Seriously though, this is what goes through our minds when we see those requests. Yes, there are the negatives but there’s also that recognition of the potential. Luckily there are those that we recognize immediately. However, I am sure many of you have also received that disconnected-connection request for you to accept, the one which includes no message, no introduction, no information on how or if you know them or why you should connect. There are the times you connect with someone only to find irrelevant information sent to you. There are also the instances where someone endorses you without really knowing you, or worse, asks you to endorse them. (People, this is another LinkedIn NO, NO! Only endorse those you really know well and for skills you can judge. I know that’s the kind of endorsement I want!)
All this kind of stuff makes us want to purge our connections now and then and perhaps never hit accept again!
Why Do I Want to Connect With People I Don’t Know
So who do we want to connect with and whose invitations should we accept?
There are those who are very selective and mainly connect only with their immediate colleagues and people they know well and there are those who connect with everyone and anyone. In my role, and I’ll bet in yours as a corporate professional, neither of those is the best option. You want to take advantage of LinkedIn to network with people you don’t know precisely so you can get to know them better and potentially discover a great new MBE supplier. You can also learn from your contacts, sharing and receiving valuable advice and knowledge. A very select contact list isn’t the answer, but you also don’t want to be overwhelmed and connected to hundreds of people who have little to do with your business and are unlikely to ever be hired by your company.
If you don’t personally know the person, ask yourself some questions.
- Are you in the same industry, business or have other commonalities?
- Can you improve your understanding of your business through them?
- Can you learn from them?
- Is their company a supplier of something you need and buy often?
- Might you recommend them to someone else in the future?
These are all good reasons to connect with someone you don’t know but you still want to be discriminating in doing so. You don’t want the possible pitfalls to prevent you from connecting with those who may be valuable to know. How do you determine who is worth connecting with?
How to Evaluate a Potential Connection
First, you can use that initial invitation as a point of screening. If it’s generic, that’s your first clue that this person may not be the professional that you want to connect with. By all means bypass the generic invitation to connect from strangers or those you barely know. If the invitation contains a proper message, that’s a great first indicator. Hopefully they’ve included something that indicates a good reason to connect.
The invitation messages have to be brief though, so you can only learn so much from that. No matter how forthcoming the writer wants to be. There are other clues that will let you know whether this is a person who may be an influential connection and committed to developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Reading their profile carefully is the first step in evaluating a request to connect. First, is their profile complete? An incomplete or sparse profile tells a certain story. Also ask yourself these questions as you review it:
- Is their profile picture professional and business friendly? (Selfies are a NO NO!)
- What are their skills and experience?
- Who are they connected to?
- Do they seem to be selective of who they connect with?
- Are any of their connections professionals in your industry?
- What are they endorsed for and by what type of professionals?
- What professional groups are they a part of?
- What groups on LinkedIn do they belong to?
- Any of the same ones you do?
- What type of community outreach are they involved in?
The answers will help you to determine if you have enough commonalities to make it worthwhile to connect. Remember, this advice is primarily for evaluating people that you don’t know well or at all. Obviously if you know someone, that alone is a reason to accept regardless of meeting any of these criteria. But if you don’t know someone, the primary reason to connect with them is the possibility of mutually benefitting in a business related way. If they aren’t in the same business or industry as you are there is probably not a good reason to connect. Be selective but be informed.
I think that appropriately sharing information with your contacts and professional groups that you belong to is a good thing, a LinkedIn best practice. Learning from industry colleagues is one of the benefits of being on LinkedIn. Ask yourself these questions, both before you accept a request and as a way to evaluate your contacts if you periodically review and cull your contact list:
- Does this person share good information on their company?
- Does this person share educational business or industry content?
- What types of events are they attending? Are they sharing the event opportunities with their community?
- Are they following your business? Are they making an effort to educate themselves on your company culture and involvement?
- Are they providing feedback on your posts if you ask for input? Are they providing meaningful answers? Are they sharing your posts to assist you in getting answers if that would be appropriate?
These are all great ways to evaluate whether someone is seriously committed to developing a “virtual” relationship and wants to understand your business and possibly move that relationship forward, or if they are simply on LinkedIn because everyone else is and want to connect for the sake of it or to try and make a quick sale. We’re an MBE staffing firm specializing in placing technical professionals, so we know what it’s like to get many requests from people we don’t really know. Anytime you connect with someone, it is a reflection of you and your company. No one wants to needlessly risk their reputation nor do we want to waste time with unproductive relationships. It just makes sense to carefully evaluate people to ensure that you are getting the most out of LinkedIn and using your professional network to the utmost advantage.
One of the great benefits to LinkedIn is that you can expand your network without going to a conference or cocktail reception. You can meet other diversity professionals, MBE owners and entrepreneurs, and industry leaders who can help you regardless of where they live and work. It’s really amazing when you think about. It shouldn’t be the only way that you meet people and build your network but it should have an important place in your repertoire.
So, resist the urge to immediately decline those pesky requests, or to see them as pesky at all; evaluate them first. The gems you find will be worth your while! I hope that this information is of value and helps you to better assess your next request to connect. Please share your LinkedIn tips and what you value about your network with me!
Corporate Outreach Manager
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
As we head into another holiday season, with Thanksgiving as the official start to a festive period that includes so many different faith, family and secular traditions, it’s the time to think about the good things that happened this year and what we are most thankful for. As always, Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect, perhaps even to unplug – totally or at least a little – and take a break from our hectic world. In this quieter time spent with family and friends, take a moment to count your blessings.
If you have been struggling with difficulties lately, remember that better times are waiting in the future. Don’t give up. It’s important to put our own experiences in perspective too, good and bad. There is always someone who is having a more difficult time or who has experienced a greater loss. So many in the world lack the basic necessities, and too many live in fear because of war or human rights violations. Those of us fortunate enough to live securely, with shelter, clean water and plenty of food, never mind the amenities life in our country affords, need to be mindful of how lucky we are. Yes, hard work and individual effort are the greatest contributors toward success but no one is an island. We are all interconnected and interdependent. No matter our circumstances, there is always someone or someway that we can help and make our family, our community, our country, and our world, a better place.
As we celebrate 25 years in business this year, as always I am thankful for my family and friends, my colleagues here at ATR, the men and women who trust us to help them in their careers, and our clients. You all make each day at work feel nothing like it. I am thankful to be in a business that provides me with such emotional rewards. I am especially thankful to those who are serving in our military, police, and firefighting forces, and for the healthcare, security and other professionals who will not be celebrating with their loved ones tomorrow because they’ll be at work, making sure we and our loved ones are safe. Thank you!
Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!
President and CEO
Unless you have been living under a rock, you’re aware of the problems with the launch of HealthCare.gov, a key part of the Affordable Care Act. It is a debacle and largely seems to be the result of some common IT project mistakes – mistakes that those of us who work in the industry have seen before, unfortunately too often.
There are many examples to choose from but let’s start with these:
- Incomplete understanding of the business
- Uncertainty regarding the specifications
- Unrealistic deadlines
- No proper end to end testing and verification
- Ignoring warnings that things were not well
First, successful websites are built by companies and people that understand their business very well and have spent adequate time understanding the exact specifications needed to produce the right end product, period. If either of these components is missing at the front end of a project, failure of some sort is almost guaranteed. According to the NY Times, a McKinsey & Company report last spring said “construction of the federal website had been hamstrung by the fact that the project had no clearly identified leader and that government contractors received conflicting instructions.” That would indicate that specifications were not clearly communicated, quite the opposite, and no one had clear authority for the project overall or the ability to resolve conflicts and issues. Ring any bells with anyone?
Second, politics has driven unrealistic deadlines. This is not exclusive to a government project, competing priorities within a business and “office politics” can create the same problems if project teams are not careful. In the case of HealthCare.gov, it’s clear that maneuvering by both parties and all branches of the government resulted in completely unrealistic deadlines that did not leave appropriate time for the real work to be done. The “specifications” for the project are essentially the 2000+ pages of the ACA. It’s a tremendously complex undertaking that was never given the time it needed to be planned for and developed properly. Perception, popular opinion, poll results, budget fights –all influenced decisions about when things would be rolled out more than the actual time needed to properly complete the project, and they continue to do so. There are a reported 5,000,000 lines of code that need to be corrected and various dates that have been discussed (11/1, 12/1, or after 12/15) are all pretty unrealistic!
Third, they launched the site without proper end-to-end testing and verification. The McKinsey report also warned that there was “insufficient time for “end-to-end testing” creat[ing] risks that the website would not work” and Mitre Corporation recently released a separate statement saying, “we were not asked, nor did we perform, end-to-end security testing.” This is really IT 101; you simply have to test and verify the functionality of the product. Yet who among us hasn’t had to argue about the necessity of proper testing before rolling something out at one time or another? When project timelines get tight or missed, testing and verification are often the first things that get squeezed out, particularly since they occur nearer the end of the project. It’s tempting to not want to delay things anymore but it is such a critical mistake to curtail or eliminate proper testing, as we can all see in this case.
Finally, McKinsey’s warnings were ignored and one can imagine a host of internal warnings were too. This is also a common problem on IT projects – no one wants to hear about problems. I think non-IT team members may have a misguided faith in the ability of IT managers to solve any issue without consequence to the schedule. Their lack of knowledge causes them to underestimate the severity of problems and the time it will take to fix them. Then there are those who willfully ignore what they fully understand to be an issue or sugar coat it and downplay the problems to senior leadership, classic management issues that can easily derail an IT project.
One might be tempted to cut them a break since healthcare is complicated and the site requirements are highly complex but many private sector businesses have equally complex business models. We work with financial institutions whose web sites must handle millions of transactions daily, accurately processing customer information, merchant transactions, reconciliations, and complying with privacy rules and other legal requirements – and they do it successfully! Whether it’s Zappos or Amazon or Bank of America, these businesses have developed technology that works and they did it by knowing their business better than anyone else, taking the time to plan properly, and understanding the exact specifications of the project. They did it by setting realistic project milestones, continuously planning for enhancements, and hiring the right outside help when they needed it. We’ve provided IT contractors to help with hundreds of these kinds of projects at our clients and I can tell you, there’s a thing or two that the government could learn from the private sector!
There’s certainly something that we can learn from this fiasco. There’s no skipping steps or rushing important parts of the development and quality assurance processes, not without consequences, possibly severe ones. Proper project planning, management and leadership are critical to success.
Any other lessons that you can think of?
President and CEO
The current year is waning and the new one looms just ahead, which means we’ll be reading plenty about hot trends and what 2014 holds – in fashion, entertainment, weather, business, in everything it seems. The predictions will come fast and furious in the next few weeks and in fact have already started. For example, Gartner Research recently published its annual Top 10 strategic technology trends that “have the potential to affect individuals, businesses and IT organizations. This year's list reflects the increasing impact of the Nexus of Forces: mobile, social, cloud and information.” Their report is interesting and offers food for thought on what the upcoming year will bring in IT. Over the next few months, I’m sure I’ll read more research and opinions, and probably pass a few of them along to the readers of Staffing 360.
But the question I want to answer today isn’t what the IT trends are as much as what they mean to you and me and why it matters to think about them. I think there are three keys:
- IT trends matter to your business. Whether you own a company, manage a business unit, or run an IT department, knowing what’s new and worth taking advantage of can be critical to your success. Understanding the implications of cloud technology and how your business can benefit from it, or how big data might be transformational to your industry, could easily impact the bottom line. Being ahead of the curve in knowing how to leverage the newest developments for cost savings, efficiencies and growth is a competitive advantage. It may be just as important to know which trends to avoid, whether it’s because they will fizzle out or simply don’t fit in with your business model. Adoption or avoidance, remaining in the dark isn’t a good option.
- IT trends can indicate future job opportunities. New technologies need people to implement them. When there is a big shift in some part of the IT universe, it generally signals some change to the IT workforce as well. Think of the mobile application marketplace and how it is driving an increased need for developers and thus competition for those with the skills and experience employers are seeking. Competition for talent is a sure predictor of rising wages and good benefits. A trend can also indicate that an area is falling in importance and creating less opportunity. Seeing where the industry is going should help you make decisions about your own future. What can you do to position yourself to move into one of these new roles? Should you take classes? Will your employer train you if you make a good business case? If you are in college now, what should you be studying to prepare yourself? Understanding the latest trends can help put you in a position to capitalize on the opportunities innovation inevitably creates.
- IT trends suggest where the competition for IT talent will be heightened. New technologies by nature don’t have a dearth of qualified individuals ready to hire, so competition for talent is likely to be tougher. This is a sort of corollary to #2: business owners create those opportunities and supply and demand rules will apply. If your strategic plans include moving into these areas, expect to have to work harder to find and hire the best talent. The more “hot” and quickly adopted a trend is, the more likely it is that it will take you longer to find someone with those skills to hire. You can also expect to pay higher salaries and you’ll need to make your hiring decisions more quickly. Qualified people won’t linger! If a new technology is critical to your business success, then workforce planning will be even more of an imperative.
Not all trends or predictions come true or deliver on their initial promise and not every new technology is applicable to every business. There almost always seems to be something big and new happening on the horizon in IT. It is an incredibly dynamic and fast paced industry and sometimes a single new product or idea can launch huge, genuine change and create significant opportunities for many. Staying abreast of what’s happening broadly across the industry and specifically within its many subsectors is a business imperative for almost any IT professional. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the information out there but don’t ignore it completely. One or more of the reasons above will apply to most of us – so keep up with the trends, just do so judiciously!
President and CEO
A traveler passes a quarry and sees three men working. The traveler asks the first man what he is doing and he replies “cutting stone.” The second says “earning money to feed and shelter my family.” When the third man is questioned, he proclaims “I am building a temple.”
This is an old story, a proverbial tale used to teach us something about our human nature. It’s a simple story but it tells us many things including demonstrating different motivations for working and how a slightly different perspective can elevate a “job” into a “meaningful experience.”
The first two answers reflect what we commonly think of as the reasons for working. One, the work simply needs to be done. As a society we have a tacit agreement to share the labor and responsibility of the everyday “tasks” that must be done to keep us fed and clothed, sheltered and safe. We all need stuff but we can’t do everything for ourselves so we’ve created a system to share the burden. Two, being paid money is one of the ways that we “exchange” goods and services, in effect “trade” with each other. Within our daily lives, we are both providers and consumers of goods and services and money is a convenient tool that we have collectively agreed to use as a more practical way than literally trading your apple for a pear, your sheep’s wool for cotton, or your medical services for a paved driveway.
The third answer is the one that I find the most intriguing though, personally and as a business owner – the idea that work provides something intangible as well, a sense of purpose and satisfaction in what we do, in what we accomplish. When we see our individual labor as an integral part of something valuable and useful to our communal society, we feel pride, happiness, contentment; a host of good feelings. We crave the opportunity to do “meaningful” work. We want to build temples, not just cut stone.
Some work is obviously meaningful in our estimation – doctors and fireman save lives, teachers educate our children and judges and lawyers ensure that justice is dispensed according to our laws. But truly, everyone’s work has intrinsic value and contributes to the larger good, thereby being meaningful. The accounting department that ensures the bills are paid at a hospital is contributing to the wellbeing of the patients too. Without school bus drivers there would be no students in the classroom for teachers to teach. A quarry worker is contributing to justice in our country when they help to build the court house. If your company manufactures drugs that save lives then everyone at your company is saving people’s lives through their daily work. Understanding how their individual effort is part of a larger whole shows people how their work is meaningful, even if they don’t automatically see it as such. With the recognition that their work is meaningful, and has a purpose greater than simply a paycheck, comes satisfaction and a measure of happiness.
It’s up to those of us in leadership and management positions to bring this perspective to our employees. Good managers can inspire us and help us to feel proud of the contribution we are making by ensuring that we understand how and why our particular efforts are meaningful. Working in the staffing industry for the past 25 years has brought me great satisfaction, on a daily basis. Seeing how it affects a person’s life to be employed, to find a needed job has convinced me of the importance of our work. I try my best to ensure that all my employees understand how it affects someone to have a job, to be working and earning a living. I try to convey that making a difference in people’s lives in this way is “meaningful work,” that it is a noble cause. Feeling that you are engaged in meaningful work is as important as being paid to do that work. When your whole team feels this way, they work as a more cohesive unit, achieving greater results in a happier work environment. Money isn’t everything when it comes to people being satisfied and happy in their jobs!
The Millennial Generation seems to be most often cited as really concerned with being meaningfully employed but I don’t believe this desire is unique to any age group or demographic. It is human nature that we find both utility and personal satisfaction in our work; that we look to be fulfilled through involvement with something bigger than ourselves. For millennia people have labored because they need to AND because they want to. It is a wonderful feeling to know that your personal efforts make a difference and that your work has meaning and contributes to our society beyond just providing you with a paycheck.
What are you doing to make sure your employees feel this way?
President and CEO
Retaining employees is always a hot topic but never more so than when talent is scarce. Even if you find a great new hire to replace someone who leaves, there is always time and expense related to training and getting them up to speed. Whether it’s a contractor who leaves before a project’s completion or a permanent employee who jumps to a rival company, retaining your critical IT personnel is important. It’s no wonder that managers are always thinking about how to keep their good employees happy and loyal. I’ve written about this before, and almost felt that perhaps it was too soon to mention it again, but it’s been since last spring that I reminded our readers of some of the things they can do to address the issue of retention.
In case you thought the issue wasn’t still on the front burner, Nextgov.com reports that most (76%) CIO’s in a recent survey were planning to hire in the next 3-6 months but, recognizing the difficulty in finding IT talent, were also strongly focused on retaining current employees. Does that sound like you? The TechAmerica Foundation recently reported that IT job growth was slowing over the past few months and suggested it was in part due to the lack of available talent to fill positions, also underscoring the importance of retention efforts. This list from our previous column, IT Employee Retention is More Important Than Hiring, is a quick reminder of some things you can do to help retain your IT employees:
1. Include them in decisions
2. Don’t micromanage
3. Offer flexible work hours
4. Invest in training
5. Provide access to new technologies
6. Give praise and acknowledge contributions
7. Offer free stuff
8. Provide a competitive compensation package
I want to highlight #4 and #5 on the list especially, because I think they are very powerful retention tools and often overlooked as too costly or because of the fear that you’re just training them for their next company. Both of these positions are shortsighted. CIO.com reinforces the benefits of training and education opportunities in attracting and retaining IT employees in this article. Citing the 2013 Kelly Global Workforce Index (KGWI), they reported that “when asked what their direct manager could do to improve job satisfaction or engagement, the top response (aside from salary, benefits, and promotion) was training opportunities.” Nearly 60% of respondents reported seeking additional education or training in an effort to improve their opportunities at their current workplace, contradicting the idea that better trained employees will leave. Not so.
Bored employees; unnoticed employees, underpaid employees; they will leave. Employees who feel stuck in a rut or that new technologies are passing them by are the ones who will seek opportunity elsewhere. Study after study shows it. Providing your IT employees with opportunities to learn on the job will be a benefit, not a drain, in almost all cases. Sure, there’s always the exception to the rule, but you were going to lose that employee anyway, more than likely; training them wasn’t the main cause. But it could be one of the main reasons why you don’t lose others; the upside potential is much bigger than the downside in this case. Providing opportunity can be as simple as making sure everyone gets a chance to work on cutting edge projects, not just the same people or team all the time, or it can be as formal as providing in house training or reimbursement for training or education undertaken on the employee’s initiative. When you consider the costs of replacing an employee, the costs associated with internal training or tuition reimbursement are generally competitive if not less. Plus, consider that for the money spent you are not just getting a new hire, but retaining a valued employee who is now more skilled, and thus better able to serve your clients and more valuable to your business.
All in all, it makes a compelling case for reviewing your training efforts and education policies to see if you can improve them and in doing so, improve your retention numbers!
President and CEO
Next week is the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s Conference and Opportunity Fair in San Antonio, Texas. Angelique Solorio, our Corporate Outreach Diversity Manager, will be attending along with Fran Garfinkel, one of our Account Executives. We’ve been a member of the NMSDC for over 20 years and our pending attendance at the conference got me thinking about being an MBE and the importance of organizations like the NMSDC.
When my wife Maria and I started ATR International, Inc., Maria had previous experience in recruiting and job placement through a program that helped people without a high school degree find work. I had experience from the other side, so to speak, having worked as an engineer on contract assignments for several years. I saw there was a need for a firm that specialized in placing technology and engineering consultants, for the benefit of both clients and contractors. With our combined knowledge and experience we felt we could create a successful company that filled a business need.
Still, having a good idea and creating a successful company are two different things. In between is a lot of hard work. Maria worked two jobs for the first few years, and we both worked long, long hours. For our daughter, Andrea, ATR’s office became a second home. I can confirm what many of you suspect and some of you already know – starting a business requires a huge leap of faith and a little bit of crazy. If you knew what you were getting into at the start maybe no new businesses would ever be created! Thank goodness there are always people willing to take that leap and ignore the doubts. New businesses are the backbone of the continued growth of the economy and MBEs are an important part of that; they accounted for 50% of the growth for all new businesses in the US between 2002 and 2007. We all have a vested interest in supporting and encouraging new business creation.
New businesses are generally small businesses in the beginning – even corporate giants like Starbucks, McDonalds or Walmart started somewhere as a single enterprise. New business owners need support, and smaller businesses benefit greatly from assistance and advice as they are starting out. Programs that help level the field against larger more well-known businesses, help new enterprises establish a foothold and gain traction to grow. MBEs, like all small businesses, benefit from this assistance. The truth is that no one succeeds alone. I think any business owner will agree that help from mentors, colleagues and industry peers – just to name a few – was invaluable in getting their business off to a good start and remaining successful.
When we started out it was just the two of us in an office and now we are a much larger company, with multiple offices across the US. Our growth and success was possible in part because of the support we received from the MBE community. Tapping into the collective knowledge of other owners through participation in various industry groups was instrumental. Utilizing corporate and government programs that helped explain and train us for navigating the somewhat complex processes involved with working with Fortune 1000 companies and their procurement departments was vital. The NMSDC is one of the key resources for MBEs.
We’ve been a member since 1992 and are still benefitting from their services. Whether it is attending a local chapter event or the national conference, taking advantage of their resources, or becoming certified through their program, if you are an MBE, you should work with them. Established businesses that want to work with MBEs will also find the NMSDC a great partner in linking them to reputable, qualified MBEs that can meet their business needs. It’s a wonderful two-way street that benefits everyone. As a “senior” MBE in the community, ATR is pleased to share our knowledge and experience with others through many outlets, including NMSDC events.
More and more companies are recognizing that having a diverse supplier base is good business all around, not just some “feel good” or “nice to have” program. Companies see a diverse supply chain as a competitive advantage, providing goods and services at competitive rates, bringing in new markets and customers, and offering fresh perspectives resulting in new and better ideas that translate into efficiencies and dollar savings. One of the bigger obstacles for both MBE suppliers and buyers is connecting; finding the right companies to work with. NMSDC does a great job of facilitating this with practical online tools and information, as well as by giving MBEs and the companies that want to hire them opportunities to meet and network.
Angelique and Fran will be at the ATR booth next week in San Antonio. Please stop by and say hello!
President and CEO
The morning and evening commute is considered by many to be the worst part of the work day. In fact, a long commute is one of the best predictors of whether someone will stay at a job for an extended period of time. Sitting in traffic, riding shoulder-to-shoulder on public transportation, dealing with strangers; it can all be a little too much to bear at times. But it doesn't have to be that way. More and more people are learning that their commute can actually be a productive part of their day. And when people are productive they are much happier. Here are some tips to make your commute more productive:
One the most underutilized forms of entertainment and learning is the podcast. There is a virtually limitless variety of podcasts available. You can find pretty much any subject including health, science, technology, humor, food, do-it-yourself tutorials, business, and even your favorite radio shows. If you have an interest, chances are there is a podcast for you waiting to be downloaded.
What better way to spend your time in traffic then listening to a book? New York Times best sellers, last years must read, or that literary classic you never got around to reading can all be found as an audio book. Listening to a good story is driving entertainment at its best.
If your company operates in different time zones you may want to get some things done while you are travelling to and from work. Schedule some of your calls during your drive time and not only will this make your commute more productive, it will free up some of your time in the office as well. If you don’t want to let work expand in to your commuting time then give your mom, your sister or brother, or a friend a call. Catch up with someone you love.
Technology has transformed the way we consume media. The iPad, Kindle, Nook, and Kobo are all ways to carry around and read multiple magazines, newspapers, books, and pretty much any other type of literature that is published in an electronic format. Each device has it’s attributes and drawbacks but one thing is for sure, they can make a long commute on public transportation much more productive and enjoyable without lugging all those books around.
Time to Think
Many of the best ideas come to us outside of work when we allow our minds to settle and thoughts to flow. Find a seat on your train, subway, or bus and just relax and think for a while. Write your thoughts down. You might think of a solution to a vexing problem at work, an idea for the next great American novel, or create a to do list of home improvement projects for the weekend. No matter what, you’ll have used your commuting time wisely. Just start writing and you will be surprised at what comes out.
It’s so easy to keep your head down and go through your regular commuting routine and we are all a little shy about meeting people. But the fact is, you never know who’s going to be sitting or standing next to you. If you are on the same bus or train each day you’ll probably see many of the same people. All it often takes is a smile and a hello or an honest compliment about someone’s shoes, coat, or watch to start up a conversation. Networking can happen anywhere and there are many stories about regular card games or book groups on the train that evolve from commuter friendships.
This is obviously only for those taking public transportation! Studies continually show that we are pretty sleep deprived as a nation, so don’t overlook your commute as a chance to catch a few extra zzz’s. Be sure you set an alarm or doze lightly enough that you won’t miss your stop though.
Podcasts and Audio Books
These are great for commuting on public transportation as well.
Making your next hire a perfect one is everyone’s goal. The ideal candidate, the perfect fit, the purple squirrel – it’s what we all search for, whatever your role in the recruiting and hiring process. Evaluating candidates and trying to predict future success during the interview process can be a daunting prospect. Everyone has a story (maybe more than one) about the candidate that didn’t work out, even though they sure looked like they would be perfect. When a candidate has the requisite skills, education and experience, why don’t they work out? Usually this is when the phrases, “cultural fit,” “soft skills,” or “intangibles,” come up. People sometimes know them when they see them, they know when they are missing once things get underway, but don't have a good idea of how to identify or interview for them.
Fletcher Wimbush, writing for ere.net, has some interesting insights into how you can become better at identifying what intangibles matter to you and your company, and how to interview for them and ultimately make better hires. His article, Learn to Identify the Qualities You Really Want in Your Next Hire, provides some practical strategies for identifying what he categorizes as “attitudinal” or “emotional intelligence” qualities.
The first step is to identify what qualities you are looking for. Many managers have a gut feeling when interviewing someone but it’s critical to translate that gut feeling into identifiable qualities such as self-motivation, resourcefulness, or a “can-do” approach to problem solving. What matters most in your department or company may be different than in others, so although his list contains some frequently mentioned qualities, it’s useful to run through the exercise with your management team to get at what’s really important for your business.
The second step is to identify what that quality looks like when it is successfully demonstrated in your company. If a “can-do” problem solving attitude is what you want, what will it look like? “Can-do” can mean working overtime to solve a staffing shortage, finding a way to reshuffle schedules without incurring excess costs, or it could mean using a flexible workforce strategy employing temporary contractors. All three are viable and none are wrong, but which one is best for your situation? Wimbush suggests looking at current successful employees who you think possess the skill to help learn how to recognize it more readily in candidates. Once you’ve done it with one skill, move on to the others on your list.
Third is the need to develop interview questions that will give you a response that accurately demonstrates that a candidate has what you’re looking for. As Wimbush points out, it is not as simple as asking, “Do you have a can-do attitude and please tell me about a time when you put it into action to solve a problem?” He stresses the importance of thinking carefully about the question or questions that will get at a real answer that truly represents their abilities. Don’t ask things in a way that will elicit a canned, prepared response that only shows they can prepare for an interview!
Now it may seem like this only applies to you if you recruit directly or plan to hire full time employees, but process can be absolutely critical when working with a staffing supplier. You may have heard your staffing partners say, “the more you can tell me about what you are looking for in terms of cultural fit or intangible qualities, the better able I am to source candidates that will really meet your needs.” If you take Wimbush’s advice, you’ll be better able to do exactly that. The information gleaned from this exercise will help you write job descriptions that more accurately reflect your desired abilities beyond the basic requirements. A conversation with your account rep or recruiter about how these qualities are demonstrated to your liking will result in better candidate submittals, which in turn will likely mean faster and more successful hires. Efficiency and the probability of lower turnover will translate into cost savings, in addition to simply saving you on headaches!
Wimbush’s article resonated with me because it focuses on something we see people struggling with every day and it provides some real, actionable ideas on how to improve things. I’ve been recruiting for 20 years, and in many different ways I’ve agreed with and put into place process and procedures to address the issues he raises but I’m always happy to learn from someone. I liked his take on things and I hope you find them helpful too. Let us know your strategies for identifying the intangible qualities that make employees successful. We all want to make better hiring decisions!
VP of Recruiting
With the 2013 upcoming National Minority Supplier Development Council Annual Business and Opportunity Fair in San Antonio, TX on October 27th-30th, it is important for businesses to plan their attendance and prepare for the event. As a minority supplier that has been in business for 25 years, we wanted to provide other MBE’s with a few tips before the event on how to get the most out of your attendance.
For smaller companies, the registration and traveling costs can be a determining factor on whether you are attending or not. You may find yourself asking the following questions: Will the investment be of value? If there are traveling costs aside from the registration itself, will it be worth staying for the full event? Am I prepared to go alone?
The bottom line is, if you are a certified minority business or considering certification, this is “the” event you’ll want to attend. Supplier Diversity has been on the rise and almost all Fortune 500 companies have a Supplier Diversity manager dedicated to connecting with MBE’s, and most of them will be at this event. So if there is a particular company that you have been targeting, this is your chance to introduce yourself to their Supplier Diversity team.
Approximately 700 people attend this national event every year. This means there will be others vying for the attention of Supplier Diversity Managers. How do you navigate the event and make sure that you stand out compared to your competition? You need a plan. Here are a few tips:
- Take a look at the attendee list on the conference website and create a list of companies to target. Consider criteria such as geographic alignment, usage levels, etc. Then find their booth location on the conference map to save time when you get there.
- Make sure you’ve visited each company’s website and researched the “what we buy” tab. You want to make sure that the companies you are targeting buy the service or product you sell. Make sure you are registered with them as well.
- Send out an introduction email to the Supplier Diversity Manager for each company you are targeting. Let them know you will be stopping by their booth to say “hi” and to learn more about their program.
- Once you make it to their booth, have a list of questions ready that you would like to get answered. These questions should be information that you are not able to find on their website. Questions regarding the bid process, names of buyers, etc. are good examples.
- Leverage those who you already know. Your current customers are quite often your best marketing tool. People talk and if you have a proven track record with current clients, they will very likely to recommend you to other companies. These references are golden. Don’t be afraid to ask for a recommendation or reference from one of your current clients if they know someone at one of your target companies.
These are just a few of the things that will make your attendance at the NMSD Council Annual Business and Opportunity Fair more productive. We believe in the success of all MBE’s and hope that these tips are of value.
ATR will be exhibiting and would love for you to stop by our booth at #1218. Also, be on the lookout for an upcoming eGuide on the business benefits of being a minority business. Safe travels to all. We look forward to seeing you at the NMSDC Opportunity Fair.
Corporate Outreach Manager