Why Our Clients And Managers Say The Things They Do

I once sat in a meeting with a number of staffing firms listening to an executive tell us that he didn't mind putting food on our tables, but he didn't want any of us getting rich off of his company. 

At the time, I, like the rest of the folks there, ketp a stony face, and said nothing, but inwardly, most of us must have either been laughing or indignant.  What business was it of his what we made?  If we provided people at the market rate and they did the job, how exactly did that impact his business?  We didn't benefit from his cost savings, so why should he benefit from ours? 

This isn't the kind of thing you're supposed to talk about in polite company (you're not supposed to question big clients), but I was reading through a book that described why exactly the executive felt the need to say something. 

The book is called Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism,  and it was provided to me long ago by the Princeton University Press.  I picked it back up for some light reading, and saw I had marked some 30 pages, almost all for blog material.  Despite it's title, it is not a leftwing academic title.  It's well-researched, and gives a lot of excellent background on the formation of textile firms, railroads, and other corporate entities in the United States. 

Key to this discussion, and the book isn't in front of me so I'll paraphrase, is the understanding that outsourcing, which used to simply be known as contracting, has a long and glorious history, but it's essential character is to provide costs savings to the corporate parent, without giving the appearance of providing to high of a benefit to the contractor.  While that seems to just be common sense, you can see the same tension I started describing at the front of this post in negotiations between marketing and product finishing in the context of 18th century textile mills in Massachusetts. 

This is a phenomenon we see in many instances, where human beings, using their internal logic, speak based on their position rather than on the general market. This is an important step to learn in business, as we often ascribe false reasoning to our clients and managers based on our emotional reactions to their words, rather than understanding why they make the statements they do.  Understanding where the come from helps us learn how to overcome their objections. 

Let me give you another example, this one internal.  I've had three managers do a very weird thing.  All three were recently promoted into a position, and they needed me to help them achieve an objective I didn't believe in.  In each case, the manager told me it was my job to help them, and that they wanted me on board.  They didn't say why.  They just demanded acquiescence.   Their words were all similar.  

Manager: Are you on board?

Me: Yes

Manager: I want to hear you say it.

Me: I said yes, I'm with you.

Manager:  No, I want you to say, I'm on board with you.

Me: I'm on board with you.

On it's own, the conversation hardly bears any merit.  Managers say these kind of things all the time.  But after the second time, and then the third, something was clear.  These managers had nothing in common.  Different industries, different parts of the country.  And yet, they all had a need to have me speak out loud, as to reassure them.  Even though each of them had used coercion to get me to agree to their point of view, and they must have known that I was responding simply because they told me to.

And yet, they sounded the same.

What happened is in each case, a new manager saw me as a leader in the office, and wanted to demonstrate to me they were in charge.  They used the words that gave them the illusion of control, because they knew they didn't have control.  Six months before and six months after, this conversation would not have mattered.  

Do you see?  It was their position that led them to say what they said, just as it was the position of the executive to tell us he didn't want us getting rich (a statement that has at least 200 years of history behind it).  

True innovation, and great salesmanship, comes from differentiating between what is expected, and what is possible, in client relations.  Comprehending why a client, manager, or personal relationships speaks certain phrases is the value of experience.   

Giving Away Free Books

I've received a number of books lately, and thought the best way to pass them out was posting them on the blog for you.


The first is something called The Trouble With HR, and it's written by Johnny C Taylor, Jr, and Gary Stern.  I have not read it, as the book came from a publicist, but it does cover some favorite topics of the online employment world, which revolve around HR difficulties.

Personally, I think a lot of the problems with Human Resources are structural (mixing recruiting and benefits, failing to understand HR's role in protecting the company from law suits).  It has conflicting duties, and that makes for difficult roles to fill.

Taylor and Stern argue that good HR departments keep employees around longer, and that can be shown as having a measurable monetary value for the company.

So, if you're in St Louis, and you'd like to get a free book, simply leave a comment below about something you love about Human Resources.  Winner is who I choose based on whimsy that day.

Recruiter Freakonomics

I'm reading a new book, Supercrunchers, and it reminds me of my Freakonomics post back from the Recruiting.com days.  I'm going to recreate it, because it asks a very important question:  Is your Recruiter working for you?

Originally posted on Recruiting.com in May 2006.

Freakonomics was a NYTimes bestseller, bringing economic tools to answer such great questions as why drug dealers live with their mothers, despite supposedly making so much money.

The book is really about dispelling myths by explaining how incentives drive us to act.  One of the examples is real estate agents.  Using some basic numbers, the book explains that a $300,000 house that sells yields a $4500 average commission for a real estate agent.  A $310,000 yields an average $4650 commission.  Thus the effort to hold out for the best price yields very little for the agent, but $10,000 for the seller.

Tracking the agents who sell their own homes, the book finds that the agents hold out for $10,000 more when it's their own home, but not so much when it's someone else's.  It's an example of simple math. Effort matched to reward.

Third Party Recruiters working for national firms are in much the same boat.  During a permanent placement,  we're fond of saying, "the more you make, the more we make," as recruiters are usually paid a percentage (20-33%) of the annual salary.  But Third Party Recruiters working inside don't make the full commission amount.  On a salary of $100,000, with a fee of $25,000, the recruiter receives half-credit, $12,500 which she then receives a percentage of - somewhere between 10-30% (depending on if they are commissioned or salaried).

St Louis Job Posting

COMSYS is hiring for a Senior J2EE developer in St Louis.  This is a 3-4 year project for a contractor.  That's right - 3-4 years. Contact COMSYS today for more information

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Writing A Book On UnEmployment

I have a really cool book that I'm writing on unemployment.  Okay, when I say writing, I mean I have the outline and four chapters and I know what the rest of the book is supposed to say, but I haven't taken the time to write the rest of it.

Sad, I know.  Especially when I'm clearly not suffering from writers' block - but the question is how I put the book out.  Online?  Self-published?  Send off a manuscript?

It's got a great title, a good story, relevant information, and my social network, is well, it's not small.  I'll try to post up small bits here and there on the different recruiting blogs - but if anyone has suggestions on the publishing - please let me know.

BlogSwap Post: Never Eat Alone

The following is a BlogSwap Post from Liz Handlin.

    I am currently reading a book which I had heard a lot about but had never read. One of the reasons that I hadn't made time to read it before now is that I had heard that it is a book about building relationships and networking which are two things that I tend to do quite well. To describe this book as being "about networking" is like saying that Pope is a guy who goes to church a lot. That is to say that a description as simplistic as "networking" sells this book short. The book is called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and it is really worth your time to read it even if you are an extrovert or a skilled networker.

I won't summarize the entire book here but I will tell you about one chapter that I found particularly insightful. Chapter 18 is entitled Health, Wealth, and Children. Mr. Ferrazzi posits that health, building and maintaining wealth, and family are the three things that are universally important to every person you will meet. Those issues are common denominators that define each of us.

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Lisa Balbes Has A New Book Out

If you've spent much time online as a St Louis recruiter, you've probably run across Lisa Balbes.  She's a technical writer (and oh so much more) who is well-networked and in demand in the region.

She also has published her book, NonTraditional Careers for Chemist:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers.  Lisa has also started a blog to promote the book.  It's about career development for chemists.  The book link is below.

Next To Review

I've been working on this book for some time, and it's fascinating.


Digital Formations:
IT and New Architectures in the Global Realm

Edited by Robert Latham and Saskia Sassen

I will have a review out by next week, as well as one for The Structure and Dynamics of Networks.

What's cool are some of the digital pictures you get when you explore networks.

This graph is of Recruiting,com, and it shows how interactions online are from the hub and spoke model, not one big interactive mash-up.  The clustering effect should be obvious.  if you understand this map, you understand how communities work.

Here's a url for a prettier map, compliments of Bruce Hoppe.

A different visual network map.

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Danger Quicksand Have A Nice Day

Change Someone's Life.  Encourage Them To Start A Blog. That's the message of David St Lawrence, a retired technology warrior with a weblog and a heart of gold.

I had the opportunity to speak with David, and he graciously sent me his book, Danger Quicksand Have a Nice Day, which he self-published as a guide to navigating the waters of corporate employment.

The book is written like a reference guide, with chapters that employ great content chunking in getting the point across.  David calls his book a "survival guide" not a philosophical treatise, and I want to share some personal thoughts on the book before I publish a larger review over at Recruiting.com.

The first three chapters of the book struck me as bitter.  21st Century Employment, Assessing Your Workplace, and Warning Signs come across like an angry man lashing out at the inanities and frustrations of corporate life.  If I had stopped right there, I would have concluded that David was  a Company Man, part of that Greatest Generation that believed that you worked hard and gave your loyalty and companies rewarded you with lifetime employment and a pension.  While reading those first three chapters, I thought he was bitterly lamenting the farce that modern employment is about anything but a social Darwinism gone awry.

That's what I would have thought, if I had stopped reading.  I would have been wrong.  The first three chapters, by necessity, define conditions where a person's career starts to head the wrong direction.  They represent accurate descriptions of dysfunctional workplaces, not a harangue against former employers and co-workers.  As I went through the book, the astounding realization hit me that David wasn't the one being bitter.  That bitterness was me, recognizing portions of my career where managers failed to live up to my expectations. 

What's great about this book is David really lays it out on the line as to why we're caught in those situations.  It's not that modern employment is full of jackals and the insane, it's that some workplaces develop bad habits that bring the worst out of people, and learning when to stay and when to go is a survival skill that is not taught or trained.

Starting a new job is a time of hope and optimism.  Far too often, the eventual reasons for our separation with a company are evident from the beginning, but masked in the hope of something better. 

Where Danger Quicksand Have A Nice Day stands apart is in the message David delivers.  There is hope.  You can control your career if you are willing to analyze it and accept the tradeoffs that come with every position.

Don't let me fool you - this book won't be easy for some people.  A sample comment is the sad fact that a willingness to move, taking the family out of the home and moving the kids out of their schools is an option many people don't take.  When you close yourself off from options, you're forced into tradeoffs you may not like.  As recruiters, we see this everyday when candidates in a bad position decide that commute, title, position, type of company, salary and work environment are all non-negotiable, and then find themselves unable to make a necessary change or find themselves unaware when layoffs appear at their door. 

The book says its not your fault, but it is your choice.

Most of all, I recommend the book to people in all stages of their career who feel like they are, well, drowning in quicksand.  The message of the book, in plain terms, is that you're not crazy, you're not alone, but you are responsible for making your own way in the world.

David St Lawrence is blogging his post-corporate adventures at Ripples
His book can be purchased for $19.95 (a few bucks more if you want if faster) at www.bentcrowpress.com.  If just might change your life.

The New Division of Labor

I've been doing less reading this month as I start the business.  My reading habits, are, well, they aren't normal.  I read in the shower, at stop lights, on the way down to pick up the paper, and even, if you can believe it, in a dentist chair while they put tempories on my two front teeth.

That said, I still rifled through four books.  The fifth is proving challenging.

The New Division of Labor: How Computers are Creating the Next Job Market: Frank Levy and Richard Murname.

Let me start with the quote for the book jacket - Every legislator, educator, and executive in American ought to have this book on this bookshelf.

This book has proven vexing precisely because I can't just power-read through it and produce a review.  It's one of those thinking books that has me putting down the thin volume and picking up pen and whatever paper is nearby.   

The cover of the book seems to take its imagery from an Ayn Rand novel, which should have been my first hint that this book is far from normal.  The thin volume packs philosophical insights into every day business sentiments in a subtle manner easily missed if you're skimming.

On the surface, what I've read is pretty straightforward.  Computers are replacing some jobs, and creating new ones.  Easily automated tasks are given to computers, and tasks requiring more cognition are left or formulated for humans. 

It's a headline ripped out of any newspaper defending progress - but there is more to the principle than the easy soundbite. 


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