Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Month: May 2014

Referrals – Helping out everyone, even yourself!

From software resellers to consulting partners to yourself, everyone likes to be recognized for good work. Sometimes, you might be asked to do a referral for companies that you’ve worked with on a particularly successful project. This activity can have several benefits that are well worth pursuing.

Keep in mind though that when doing a referral, you are essentially a spokesperson for a 3rd party or your own company. Be sure that you can back that company with your own reputation!

Always check with your management chain before doing a referral. If your manager isn’t comfortable with this or if it is against corporate policy, check with the vendor to see if your company name can be made confidential. If so, you might still be able to participate!

Helping Your Company
If you are having issues convincing management to participate in a referral, you should consider how a referral can help your own company. It’s easy to move on from a successful project and forget about external partners that have helped you. In IT, this can happen as you move into the long term support model. Down the road though, you might find yourself in a situation where you might need that same external partner to help you again on a future project.

Providing this partner with a good referral that helps them generate business with another company could help your own company negotiate better discounts on pricing in the future and can drive a closer relationship with a talented organization that will only understand your company better as time goes on. Not only that, but if you might be standardizing on a software platform with this partner, you can lower costs across the long term through this standardization.

Helping Another Company
Sure,  you’ll be helping the partner you are doing the referral for by generating new business, but you will also help the company you talk to! This is one example of where you need some sales acumen. Every company is different and while you’re talking about your own challenges and achievements, keep in mind that they may not be applicable to that company. Ask questions that pull out the details and think about how you can tailor your answers to just what is relevant to them. You could drive them to success in their venture.

This reason is mostly altruistic, but can still benefit you. If the referral is with another business in your industry, it might be beneficial to see how they deal with common problems that you may have. This open dialog could point you in the direction of solving a major pain point.

Helping Yourself
So, what does all of this do for you? For one thing, you become the driver and a champion for a (potentially) strong partner at your organization. You can also gain new knowledge about how other companies operate and find new opportunities for improvements in your own processes. These conversations help develop leadership and communication skills if done right.

The referral process can also be a powerful networking tool. You will gather new contacts in industries similar to yours or ones using similar technologies, which can help further your own career.

Part I of the ATS Saga: The Real Gatekeepers

Search for the terms ATS and resume on the internet and you’ll discover a ton of blog entries and articles about Applicant Tracking Systems, how they work and potentially, how you can game them. The problem is that you can’t really game them. You are at the mercy of something beyond your control, like asteroids and taxes, but even less fun. Not only can the ATS get in the way of a potential opportunity, but it turns out that poorly trained hiring managers can too.

I found a job at a local company and despite having several contacts there, they directed me towards the Zuul-like company gatekeeper, the ATS. The job was for a manager of the team that runs the Identity Access and Management solution. I actually have this experience, having rolled out CA’s IdentityMinder solution, upgrading it, and expanding its role at my current company. I’ve also been running Directory Services for years, worked with different directory owners and trained IT staff on using IdentityMinder. Lastly, I have been a manager for a few years, so I thought I was a pretty good fit.

Knowing I was up against an unfeeling algorithm, possibly from another dimension, I checked online to see what to do. Surely, I could find a fault to exploit. After reading many, many articles, I took the following steps, which are not anywhere near as exciting as crossing the streams:

  • Reorganized my relevant skills up to the top
  • Used keywords from the posting in the resume
  • Removed all lines that spanned the length of the page
  • Changed “Professional Experience” to “Work Experience”
  • Put my old company names, the dates I worked and my job title each on their own lines
  • Moved the header into the resume for easier parsing

I submitted the resume through the ATS’ horrific re-format, which butchered it into oblivion, despite my planning. After an hour, I got my work experience redone and reviewed the summary. I shook my head at the plain text blob it showed me. I decided to start over and try HTML formatting. When I finished, I still had the same result, but with line break codes inserted everywhere. I tried again with plan text and carriage returns, cutting and pasting carefully into each section. Still no dice. I left it that way and hoped that the summary was for machine eyes only, sparing a real human the pain of reading it.

There was a little light at the end of the tunnel though. After all this time invested, I was able to check a box that would send me an email when the system matched me with future job postings. Maybe the ATS wasn’t so evil after all. It was going to save me time, instead of taking it away!

For a month, I didn’t hear anything about my application other than a confirmation of receipt. I followed up with my contacts, including one that was listed as my internal referral, but they weren’t the hiring manager, so their hands were tied. My attempt to game the ATS had apparently failed.

After a month later, lo and behold, the ATS found a job was a match for my skills! Click here! I was told! I thought this was odd because I had been checking the job page at regular intervals for jobs, but who could refute the Click here!? What match had the ATS system found?

It was for a Facilities Project Manager.

By this point, I realized the ATS was messing with me. Not only had it not understood that I was a potential match for the applied for job, but it thought I was a potential match for something I had zero experience in. Granted, there is a level of assumption here that the ATS ranked me poorly for the position, but after applying for several IT manager jobs there, I’m willing to make it. I set out to figure out what I had done wrong to warrant this result.

To start, I went out to Wordle and compared my resume to the Facilities Project Manager job. As you can see below, there does appear to be some overlap for some potentially huge generic key words, like project(s), management, team(s), manage/manager/management. That’s really about it though. The facilities job is the left, my resume is the right.

FacilitiesPM Resume

Wordle only goes so far though. I do think it shows the lack of diversity in terms on the part of the hiring manager though. Hopefully, project wasn’t considered a key word.

Next, I tried, which is an excellent site that compares your resume against the job description. It matched me to the facilities job at 36%. Budget, collaboration and disaster recovery were my top skill matches with no other skills really matching. I came away from this experience with two realizations.

First, the hiring manager who writes the job description has a critical role to play in the success of finding someone with matching skills. Focusing on the job description without an understanding of how their particular ATS works is a waste of time for the hiring manager and applicants. HR should train hiring managers or work with them when they have a new requisition to help ensure the matches will be more successful. An ATS can provide value in parsing out relevant candidates if the description is well written and the system is leveraged appropriately. I’m guessing that since the facilities job has been open for 3 months now, they have not written it correctly. Again, assumptions I’m willing to make.

Second, a hiring manager should not rely solely on the ATS to get results, especially when there are internal referrals available. While an ATS can sort relevant candidates, your employees can show you good ones. A well designed internal referral program can supplement the ATS. Trust that your employees aren’t wasting your time by getting these resumes to you. I have been internally referred at a great company that goes so far as to assign you a recruiter after referral. This experience has been phenomenal and bypasses the ATS headache altogether. Besides, wouldn’t you rather hire someone based on an existing employee’s recommendation versus a bot that can only evaluate their resume? If an employee is willing to put their reputation on the line for someone else, they are probably worth a look.

Needless to say, this experience has given me little hope for the job I was originally going for or really any job at the company. I continue to muddle through social networks and vendors to find folks that might have real influence there. This has left me with a question though – is this a sign that maybe this company isn’t really one that I would want to work for? And what’s to keep me from losing my mind? Nothing, it turns out (find out next week)!

When Top Down Management and Disagree and Commit Collide!

hand-grenade-5-1148586-mBattle Royale time! What happens when you take Top Down Management and mix in a fast paced Disagree and Commit strategy? Unhappy employees, poor decisions, and a culture of blame ensue. Before we get to that though, a little primer on both strategies.

Top Down Management
Top Down Management gives control of all decisions and discussion to the manager or executive. They are responsible for the long-term vision, goals, timelines and direction. This management style rarely takes input from employees, but does expect them to follow the lead of the decision maker. When mixed with highly skilled employees, the result can often be a disincentive to perform well because they are no longer stakeholders in projects or the long-term vision. At an extreme level, top down management can lead to poor decisions and high turnover if management isn’t low enough to determine the real needs of the customer.

However, as Jill Geisler points out in her article on the subject, there are times when it can be used very effectively. For example, if the manager has a higher level of expertise than the directs and the issue is urgent, it would be better to allow that manager to make the decisions alone. A good example of this would be the following scenario. A manager has given an important, quick-fire project to an intern due to resource constraints. The manager has the direction, but the intern has little knowledge or drive. The manager would drive the intern with clear instructions for completing the project. No decision should be made by the intern. The intern is nothing more than an extension of the manager, doing what is asked.

When I think of Top Down Management, I think of Gino Molinari, a character from Philip K. Dick’s novel, Now Wait for Last Year. Gino is the elected leader of Earth during a war with an alien species. He takes a drug that allows him to travel sideways into other universes where he pulls an alternate of himself back to his own timeline to lead as his health deteriorates (which it inevitably does, over and over). He trusts no one to lead the Earth or make decisions regarding the war except for himself, and any version of himself will do. All decisions rest with him and his vision guides the Earth, for good or bad. He even goes as far as to have a meeting with Earth’s allies while he is having surgery (on more than one occasion). Gino is an extreme example of how mistrust can be translated and excused with Top Down Management. If you feel a kinship here, you need to re-evaluate some things.

Disagree and Commit
This one can be fun if you’re surrounded by passionate people that can handle criticism, but it can also be inherently poisonous. This management style encourages open discussion and arguments in order to achieve a decision or strategy in the best interest of the company. Once that decision has been made, everyone commits to it and moves on. If you have someone who can’t commit though or feels that their opinion wasn’t heard, it can fester away and cause dissatisfaction with their role on the team.

Someone who used this strategy successfully was Abraham Lincoln. He installed a cabinet that, while disagreeable to his own views, were still honest. In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, she outlines how Lincoln brought these rivals together and allowed spirited debate to influence his decisions, resulting in a stronger country.

Collision of Practices
Despite the benefits of each separately, when you combine them together, you create a scenario that augments the worst outcomes. Using Top Down Management, a manager drives the conversation, but relies on Disagree and Commit to engage their employees for feedback. Instead of employees discussing and deciding strategies at the team level, the information flows only back up to the manager alone. This is because the employees aren’t trying to convince each other, only their manager. Therefore, no productive discussion occurs at the team level, eliminating potential pitfalls and silencing helpful opinions. Any bias on the manager’s part is amplified and fed back to the subordinates because of the nature of the relationship. Regardless of their input, they ultimately do not receive the active participation that allows them to commit and move on. This can lead to feelings of low self esteem when identifying with the team and results in failed projects, delays or even attrition. The worst case scenario would be the delivery of a product or solution that isn’t in line with a customer’s needs.

Another consequence of these combined strategies is a lack of standards and consistency. By employing these strategies together, the manager, who has now taken the burden of owning the new solution or project, leaves his employees without a clear direction since the team isn’t involved in the larger conversation. Without this understanding, makeshift processes will build up around the decision to meet the real requirements. Operations will slow to a crawl and fractures in productivity will be rampant.

A good method to responsibly use Disagree and Commit is to encourage healthy discussion at the team level. If the team flounders, it is the manager’s responsibility to step in, get them on track and, if need be, make the decision. This gives everyone the confidence to define the best strategy and go forward with little or no regrets. Leave Top Down Management in your back pocket just for those instances when your employees need to focus on something intensely and just get it done. If a staff member lacks the confidence to complete a project, get involved and mentor the person to success.

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First post! BAM!

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