Excelling as a Consultant in Tough Economic Times

I hear it every day! People complaining about hating their jobs…if it could possibly get any worse than this…why they have a perfectly great (and expensive!) college degree, but cannot find the perfect job that will pay the bills! All the while, I find myself personally growing and accelerating in my career path.

A little background

I was told that I would never make it in the world without a degree. I watched my five older siblings go to college, struggle, get laid off and make many critical mistakes in their career paths. I decided that this direction was not for me. Without knowing what I really wanted, I took every new position as an opportunity to learn something new, I always gave 120%, and I refused to become overly dependent on a paycheck. I worked for 10 years in restaurant management, but hated the long hours. I went back to school briefly, but it was too confining and I wanted to be free. I did, however, meet some amazing people and gained valuable skills and perspective about what was truly important: to always work hard doing something I enjoy, to believe in myself, and to never sell myself short!

Fast forward to 2008!

It was time to settle down and focus on providing a future that was heading where I really wanted to go-Early Retirement! I threw my past experiences into a sharp resume, came up with a plan, got myself into the best shape of my life, and bought a really nice “go get a real job” suit. I knew I would have my work cut out for me, so I registered with every staffing agency I could find and sent my resume to hundreds of companies, not limiting my search to location or career type. The phone started ringing immediately! I set up as many interviews as were offered. It really did not matter short term temp, permanent or even compensation. I just wanted to know what companies were really looking for and what they ultimately wanted was someone who could fix their problems. I went into every interview with positive energy, confidence and enthusiasm and sold myself to them every time! I was not afraid of failure. That would mean I was trying too hard! I made them feel comfortable with me because I was comfortable with myself.

Finally, the jumping off point!

After a two hour interview with an opportunity that excited me, I asked for a promise from the hiring manager that if I had not proven myself, they would terminate my contract and we could go our separate ways.  I started as an administrative assistant in IT (bottom of the food chain!) with a pharmaceutical development company. It was a 560 hour contract that I completed in 8 weeks. I was offered a permanent position as an IT Instructional Developer and Trainer globally, with benefits and a salary increase! I found and fixed problems, brought order to our department, and offered my support even when it was outside of my responsibilities. I was the first one in each day and the last one out, extremely organized and efficient. I volunteered for every company event and social committee, and joined their employee health initiatives. Anything to get noticed! Management recognized my efforts right away as a leader. I had proven myself! I was recognized in company-wide meetings for bringing energy to the organization and inspiring others to work harder, be more involved, and strive to succeed.

What I learned along the way!

It really does not matter what you choose to do. Remaining confident, offering your support when opportunities present themselves, and not being afraid to learn is much more important! Four years later, I am making 3X the salary I started with in 2008 as a consultant and Love It! It is really what you make of the experience that makes you successful!

About the Author: 

Karen Kahouache, MATRIX Associate Project Manager, a veteran project manager with over 25 years professional management and healthcare IT experience in multiple industries. She has worked for large and small organizations in a number of roles, including technical trainer, project and program manager.  Karen has mastery skills in EHR implementation, technical training and development, project management of state healthcare inititiatives and has rolled out federal healthcare reform programs. My new role is in Strategic Development at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC, developing a low cost provider network.

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Job Seeker

Leadership Pitfalls and the Technical Manager

Being in leadership today is challenging enough with the unrelenting pace of change, global competition, and a multi-generational workforce. But, there are some additional challenges that can derail the effectiveness of the technical manager. The fact is that most technical managers use a style of leadership known as the Analytical or Systematic Style. This style has many characteristics that are effective in leading teams—characteristics such as consistency, dependability, efficiency, thoroughness, depth of knowledge, and objectivity. However, there are also some characteristics associated with this style of leadership that may not serve the technical manager. This article addresses four specific pitfalls for those who are relying exclusively on the Analytical Style of leadership.

Pitfall #1: Working with Facts not Folks

Many Analytical Leaders love to get settled in their offices, get to work mining data, and not emerge for days, weeks, or months. All right, admittedly, this is an exaggeration. But, there is enough truth in it to make it one of the pitfalls. There is a tendency toward isolationism in Analytical Leaders. They are not usually walking around the office meeting, greeting, and chatting with their team members. If they need to communicate, it is most likely through email or texting. They would benefit from getting out of their offices more frequently and developing more personal interactions with their team members.

Pitfall #2: Finding the Flaws

It’s no secret that Analytical Leaders tend toward perfectionism. They expect flawless work from themselves and from others. So, they are always on the lookout for mistakes—and are exceptionally adept at finding them. There is nothing wrong in finding the flaws in others’ work, but it becomes a problem when that’s all you find. Analytical leaders often overlook all that’s right about a project, report, or presentation, and go immediately for the flaws. This can be demoralizing to team members and come across as overly critical. Balance your comments being sure to acknowledge those things that went well.

Pitfall #3: Disappearing When Conflicts Arise

Conflict is a natural part of life, and the work environment is certainly not immune to conflict. Differing opinions, personality clashes, competitiveness, and opposing goals are just a few of the reasons behind conflict in the workplace. But, the Analytical Leaders are not usually very comfortable with the emotional outbursts or the intensity that often comes with conflict. So, they either ignore it hoping it disappears, or hide out hoping that others will handle it. This is usually wishful thinking. Unresolved conflict can fester and grow which is damaging on many levels. Technical managers would do well to deal early and calmly with conflict.

About the Author: 

Davette La Bay has helped thousands of people around the country reach new levels of personal and professional success. Davette’s programs are specifically tailored to her audiences. Her programs are highly interactive, fast-paced and practical and her audiences consistently describe her as “a vibrant and enthusiastic speaker,” “a magnificent facilitator”, “highly knowledgeable”, and “perfect for our group.” Formerly a management consultant for two internationally recognized educational seminar firms, Davette is currently the Director of Leadership Development for a large government agency in South Florida.

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Hiring Manager

The Persistent Performance Review Process

Have performance reviews in your organization become a routine time waster? Are your performance reviews missing the mark of raising productivity and building loyalty? Do your performance reviews usually have a negative twist that is hard to resolve? Would you like to improve the process?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, keep reading.

The most effective performance review process is to make a conscious effort to give relevant feedback on a regular basis, be that daily, weekly or bi-weekly. Regular conversations between a manager and an employee should offer encouragement for the employee, adjust direction that has strayed off course, and correct inadvertent errors. I call this the Persistent Performance Review Process.

Employees seldom come to work with the intent to make mistakes but unintentional slipups happen because employees are human. Saving a conversation about mistakes, errors and slipups for performance review time is a serious blooper. Often the employee repeats the mistake or strays farther off course.

Drive-by Correction

Managers often think they can save time by giving a drive-by correction comment instead of stopping and giving relevant feedback. They mistakenly think the best time for a real conversation is at performance review time. A drive-by comment can have an unintended consequence: low productivity. The employee’s momentum is broken as they work to reconstruct their esteem and thought processes. A persistent and consistent performance review process keeps employees on the right track and focused on production goals.

It takes courage to initiate candid conversations in a Persistent Performance Review process but at formal performance review time, the payoff is astronomical. The Persistent Review Process eliminates the negative twists that often happen in a formal performance review and can be tough to resolve at one sitting.

Coaching and Mentoring Mode

Regular conversations about mistakes, performance, and behavior permits you to shed the disciplinarian, principal’s office syndrome at the formal performance review time and settle into a coaching and mentoring mode as you discuss the employee’s skill development, the behavior issues you have addressed consistently, their contributions to the team, and their anticipated future with the company. A discussion aimed specifically at the employee’s growth, needs and concerns builds loyalty and maintains retention.

If throughout the year in your persistent performance review mode, you have created a baseline of candid, straightforward conversations, you and your employee will feel free to express honest feelings and opinions in the formal performance review. The formal performance review can be non-threatening as it includes listening and acknowledging both persons’ viewpoint, exploring alternatives, and negotiating a pathway forward when there is disagreement.

Candid conversations throughout the year take the sting out of a typical performance review technique, the sandwich technique: “I really like what you did on the Telco account. BUT the XYZ account missed the mark. It was lousy, subpar work. Don’t let that happen again. However, I really like you.” What do employees remember? What you categorized as lousy.

Take the Prickle Out of Formal Review

The Persistent Performance Review Process with its regular employee conversations about performance — both good performance and performance that could be improved — not only takes the prickle out of the formal review, but reduces the possibility of high performance reviews for a mediocre employee or good remarks about an employee that should be terminated.

The subjects of candid conversations with employees throughout the year and the results of the conversation can be recorded in the employee’s file which should be reviewed during the formal performance review. The process also provides documentation of below average performance that could lead to termination.

The Persistent Performance Review process is a great tool to make the formal performance review an instrument to increase performance, move mediocre performers to high performers, and contribute to retention of your best and brightest employees.

About the Author: 

Karla Brandau is the CEO of Workplace Power Institute that specializes in the people aspects of leadership and team building. She provides programs in charismatic leadership, results driven teams, and no excuse professional development. Find out more about more about Karla by going to Workplace Power Institute.

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Hiring Manager

The Seven Deadly Myths of Mobile

Recently I had the chance to chat with Josh Clark, one of the biggest names in Mobile Web Design, and keynote speaker for The Atlanta Drupal Business Summit, on how companies can unlock mobile for online success.

In the interview, Josh answers questions about mobile strategy and design such as:

  • What are the biggest hurdles companies face when “going mobile”?
  • What new mobile standards and technologies will Drupal need to embrace to stay relevant?
  • What are the next phases of responsive design?

You can listen to the interview here.

Josh Clark will keynote The Atlanta Drupal Business Summit taking place at the Cobb Galleria on Friday, October 26, with The Seven Deadly Myths of Mobile. This Business Summit brings together business leaders and technology strategists to discuss business solutions built with Drupal and sharing real-world examples, lessons learned and best practices.

“Drupal is the leading open source content management platform for business benefits, rapid technology advancement and long-term ROI,” says Jim Caruso, CEO of MediaFirst and an avid Drupal Association member.

Georgia boasts impressive recent adoptions of Drupal. The metro-Atlanta area is home to Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc. which has been gradually migrating their roster of sports web properties onto Drupal, including NBA.com. At the public sector, the State of Georgia is wrapping-up a highly successful migration of Drupal from a proprietary platform—by the way, they are saving about 5 million dollars a year in doing so. At the higher-ed sector, Drupal has exploded in Georgia—Georgia Tech utilizes Drupal on over 40 departmental sites, the University of Georgia, Emory University, and Kennesaw State are all leveraging Drupal.

You can view the full schedule for the Drupal Business Summit and register at: http://www.drupalsummit.com/city/atlanta

About the Author: 

Adam Waid is the Director of Marketing at Mediacurrrent, an industry-leader in helping organizations architect custom Drupal websites. Adam is also a MATRIX Alumnus, where he worked closely with the Sales and Recruiting organizations to develop differentiation strategies, create content, and drive CRM and social media initiatives with a single goal in mind - build stronger, more meaningful relationships with our clients. Leveraging new technology, the latest social media trends, and a good mix of traditional marketing, Adam grows online communities.  

Follow Adam on Twitter and Read his Social Media Blog.

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Crazy Counter Offers and the War for Technology Talent

We have all heard the saying many times. A quick web search returns countless articles and statistics thoroughly detailing why it is a horrible idea. Good recruiters will remind you early and often throughout the process of looking for a new job. “Never accept a counter offer!”

Despite the negative connotation and overload of data available, the number of counter offers being accepted by technology professionals has never been higher . So what is leading to these jaw dropping decisions that are leaving hiring managers and recruiters alike crying, deflated, and exasperated? Some insight from an insider as I explain what I see.

IT Employment at Record Levels

Simply put, the market is hot. According to the latest report from TechServe Alliance, the number of IT jobs in the United States continues to grow, reaching yet another monthly all-time high in August of 2012. The IT index is up 3.4% year over year which means more jobs are being filled. However, thousands upon thousands of skilled IT jobs remain open at some of the America’s most respected companies. Across the country the shortage of talent is causing project delays resulting in unexecuted strategies and lost market share. Companies are getting desperate and simply can’t afford to lose key technical talent. Where we once observed companies make counter offers to only the very top tier of talent, we now are seeing an “any means necessary” retention strategy used on much larger percentages of the IT department. This also has led to diminished fears of “If I accept the counter, they will let me go once they find a replacement.” Right or wrong, talented techies feel like they won’t be replaced. Last month a talented engineer who accepted a counter told me, “If they want to replace me good luck. If my skills are that easy to replace would I be getting multiple call from recruiters every day?”

Evolution of Sourcing- Increase of Unmotivated Candidates

A recruiter’s ability to identify and engage talent has drastically improved in recent years. As adoption of social media has increased by IT professionals, so has the candidate pool for recruiters. You may not be looking for a new job or in my database, but if you have a profile on LinkedIn or Facebook, send an occasional tweet, check in on Foursquare, or even register for local user groups on Meetup, any good recruiter can find and communicate with you. Today everyone is a candidate and almost everyone is open to listen. Ultimately, this leads to more candidates being sold on potential opportunities when they were not truly motivated to make a change prior to conversations with a recruiter. When they go to give notice and their employer responds with an even better counter, the decision to stay is not difficult.

Crazy Counter Offers

Everyone has read the insane stories on Techcrunch, including Neal Mohan turning down a key Product role at Twitter after Google gave him $100 million in stock to stay. Another article says 80% of Googlers agree to stay when offered a counter. Regardless, the phenomenon is no longer limited to Silicon Valley’s elite. When I recently polled MATRIX recruiters across the country I found that we have seen counters offers in excess of $10.00 per hour and 20K annually being offered in many markets. Recently in Dallas, we had a candidate accept a counter that included a Promotion, 30K raise, and full work from home flexibility.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in tight knit local IT communities. Eventually, the demand will settle, it always does. Will those who accept counter offers be viewed as flaky and bridge burners by their peers? Or will they simply be viewed as opportunists who maximized their market value?

About the Author: 

Justin Thomason is the Director of Recruiting for the MATRIX Western region.  His expertise includes hiring, training, and leading world class recruiting organizations.  With a focus on innovative delivery strategies, Justin's recruiting teams specialize in leveraging social media to develop lasting relationships with talented IT professionals.

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Job Seeker