Recruitment agents and Opportunity UK

Andy at SironaConsulting reported earlier today that the former CEO of Woolworths has started a new recruitment agency.  For non-British readers, Woolworths was a High Street chain which, at its peak, was a precursor of $1 shops.  This year, it finally went under and put a lot of people out of work.

Andy wondered how the CEO of a failed company could front a start up and his question led me to a question of my own.

Which recruitment agencies in the UK (or elsewhere) specialise in the 4 BCG segments?

Cash cows

Cash cows dominate their own market but are growing slowly if at all.  They typically offer stable careers, plenty of training and good benefits, such as final salary pension schemes.  They are a great place to raise a family.  And  importantly, cash cows tend to recruit from other cash cows.  There is an inside track of cash cows, so to speak.

Downside:  If you have been working in a cash cow, you’ve been living a soft life.  You are ill-prepared to enter the hurly-burly of a small business and the other 3 segments.  Once in cash cows, it is better to stay.

Question-marks

Question-marks are typically start-ups.  They don’t have much cash and pay low wages with stock options.  If the company makes it, like founding employees of Google, employees get very rich indeed.

Downside:  If the company does not make it, you have little to show for the years you spent with them.  This is not a good place for someone with a family to support or someone who wants to return to a cash-cow.

Stars

Stars are in a high-growth phase.  Basic pay is still modest and benefits are not luxurious.  Indeed, bonuses are linked to performance and may be lavish to compensate for the low pay and the very real possibility of not receiving a bonus at all.

Downside:  The official downside is that if growth does not happen, you will not get a bonus.  The real downside is two fold.  You only know how to do business in growth conditions.  Anyone can do business in an up-turn.  Can you also succeed in a down turn?   And as we have all learned, some growth is fictious.  If you don’t really understand the business, you might be involved in a Ponzi scheme.

Dogs

Dogs have had their day.  They no longer dominate their segment and they are no longer growing.  Oddly, though, employees are paid very well in a dog and in cash, not benefits or stock-options or performance bonuses.  Why?  Well obviously, no one with any sense will work there unless they are paid almost in advance!

Downside:  You make a lot of money helping to squeeze the last pennies out of a dog but you become a dog specialist.  You would be disruptive in the lazy life of a cash cow.  Startups and their delayed payments will scare you. And you don’t know anything about growth.  Once in a dog, you move from dog to dog.

Recruitment Agencies

The credit crunch has changed the trading conditions for companies in the UK quite and it is likely that many companies have switched segments.  The star of yesterday may well be the dog of today.

An intuitive understanding of the four segments and the HR policies that go with them seem to play beneath current public discussion about the credit crunch.

  • Should cash cows have been managed like stars and hasn’t this confusion led to their collapse?
  • Can the banks be reformed back into the slow, passive cash-cows they once were?
  • Now that derivatives hang around the bank’s necks like albatrosses, are they not indeed dogs?

For my part, I suspect the banks are simply stars that were managed with insufficient understanding of the business.  But if they had been managed as startups (which is consistent with a level of ignorance about a business and its trajectory), they should have had delayed stock options.   And given their strategic importance to UK, the powers-that-be should have insisted on some careful modularization and ring-fencing of risk.

It might be possible to mould the banks back into the slow and cautious form of the cash cows that we once knew banks to be, but I wonder if cash cows are made so readily.   I suspect that banks need to be unbundled into the four segments: safe operations of cash cows,  unknowable outcomes typical of start-ups, growth related work of stars,  and cashing-up operations of dogs.  But I’m not on the inside.  This is only armchair analysis.

What I am curious about, given Sirona Say’s post of today, is which recruitment agencies specialise in cash-cows, which in startups, which in stars and which in dogs?

And how has the credit crunch changed the mix of companies you deal with and hence your own focus and service?



Check my facts on Opportunity UK

Employment opportunities in the UK

Today, Twitterers are retweeting BBC’s report that TUC says 60 people are chasing every job in the south, and elsewhere in UK, each job is chased by 10 people.  Is this true?  And if it true, is it unusual?

I wonder if Andy at SironConsulting a leading recruitment agency would make a comment?

Talk facts not negative emotions

I’m a positive psychologist and I hail from Zimbabwe so I know a fair bit about living in an economic crisis.

  • Bad news outweighs good.  People reading the BBC report on their way to work today will need 3 times as much positive information of greater weight just to think straight!  They will need 5 times as much positive information to be creative and to find solutions to challenges of the day.  Be prepared for a rough day at work and stop to take a walk in the park, listen to the birds and admire the daffodils.  You may need it!
  • Even those of use who are good at maths find it difficult to keep track of numbers with lots of zero’s in them.  I don’t undertand why it is so difficult but generally we need to pull out pen and paper and lay out the arithmetic neatly.  Don’t assume journalists have done this.  They are as dazzled as the rest of us!
  • We need information to guide action not to encourage excitable chatter.  We need facts and figures presented, in context, in a way that supports the purpose of the reader.

I find it hard to find facts and figures about the British economy, so I am going to collect them here.  But do check my numbers.  I do know from living in Zimbabwe that we are prone to make errors when lots of zero’s are involved.  Maybe I’ll add an error from time to time to see if you are doublechecking!

And I am also going to relate the facts I find to the issue at the top of our minds: making a living joyfully in the UK!

Here are my two facts for today and my take on the BBC report.

1   We live and work in the 5th largest economy in the world

Wikipedia figures for GDP by country seem to be 2008 and are probably in USD.  In the last year, the pound has weakened and our economy will be smaller now nominal terms. We have also contracted about 1.5%.  A year ago, India was expected to overtake us in size and I imagine this has happened.

So we are probably not 5th any more.  Maybe we are tenth?  Who knows?

We are still massive by any account.

2   We have 4% of the world’s economy and 1% of the world’s population

We have a disproportionate share of the world’s production and services. Yes, we do.  We are well off.

The world’s GDP is around 50 trillion (million millions or 10^6 x 10^6).  Our GDP in the UK is between 2 to 3 trillion USD.  I’ve taken the lower figure to arrive at 4%.

The world has 6 to 7 billion people (thousand millions or 10^3 x 10^6).  In the UK, have 60 million people.  So 1% of the world live here.

We have 4 x our share of the world economy!

Of course, the USA, with GDP of 15 trillion has 30% of the world economy and a population of 300 million, 5% of the world’s population.  So they have 6x their share of the world’s economy and one-and-a-half times our already disproportionate share.  Pareto’s law in action.  A few people command a disproportion share of resources.

A share in the UK economy

Once, we have remembered that we are quite rich, then we can turn to the issue exercising the TUC – the ability of people to take part in the economy.

Our opinions on this matter provide the underlying tension in western politics and seem to go something like this.  Rich people think they should continue to be rich even if they have just lost billions through bad decisions.  People who seek to make a living through employment believe employment should always be available.

It seems a sterile debate to me.  Looking at the UK from the outside, people quarrelling in a rich economy look like governors of the workhouse in the film Oliver stuffing their faces while the boys ate gruel.

It is quite hard for someone who has lost their job, and who is shocked and frightened, to imagine they are in a psychological state similar to  someone who has lost millions or even billions.   Anyway they are in too much shock to care.

Negative emotions are overwhelming, and psychologsits are pretty confident we need 3-5 moderate positive emotions to outweigh 1 mild negative emotion.  A shock like redundancy needs heaps of positive, which is hard when you’ve just lost the social support system of work and you are short of money too.

But reality and commonsense must also kick in here.  Certainly, claim redundancy money, sign on, and do sensible things.  But consider your basic game plan too.

Why are you waiting for other people?

While you are doing sensible things, do start taking charge of your own life.  Aim to come out of this ‘recession’ not only with your house intact and some savings in the bank, but less, less, LESS, dependent on other people for opportunity.

Can you create opportunity and look for another jobs at the same time?

You must.  Otherwise you are in a bizarre position of feeling poor in a country where we control FOUR TIMES our share of the world’s economy.

There are many simple systems.  Here are 4 suggestions.

  1. Buy British corporate poet, David Whyte‘s CD, MidLife and the Great Unknown and listen to it while you commute, or as you take a walk in a park or field in the gentle spring sun.
  2. Buy What Color is Your Parachute? and do the exercises.
  3. Listen to Dr Srikumar Rao talking at Googletalk (50 min) and follow his advice.
  4. Do my “new person and new url per day” exercise.

Absolutely commit yourself to taking charge of your life and join in unashamed abandon a chase to catch up with the US!

We would like 6 times our share of the world’s economy too!

Not for the sake of gluttony but because it is fun to be innovative and productive and when we trade fairly, people in other countries benefit too.

I would love to hear how you take charge of your life.

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Oops! Should have bcc’d that email!

My first email newsletter  .   .  .

Last weekend, I set up the first email update for the members of Olney100, the community website that we run on the Ning platform for the town of Olney in England.

The broadcast facility in Ning doesn’t allow formatting, so I downloaded the membership list into a CSV file and imported it into my email.  After a hard afternoon designing the newsletter and trying to keep it short, useful and readable in 10 seconds, rather tired, I sent it out.  Oops! I put the group name into CC and not Bcc.

Data transmitted in error

Only one person wrote to complained, and one of course, was sufficient to alert me to the error of my ways.   My apologies.

Interestingly, one of the members also made this mistake this week in his business.  In his case, he had received an inquiry and he replied to everyone on his mailing list.  As it happened, the person making the inquiry was a competitor who was delighted to receive a list of qualified leads and promptly wrote to them all offering his services.

My young friend received a lot more complaints than U – 5% of his list.  His customers are generally younger than mine, and a lot more aware of the norms and law of the internet.

Dealing with data misuse

This is the way he responded.

1  He apologized immediately and unreservedly to his customers.

2  He checked the Data Protection Act and copied and pasted relevant portions into a ‘cease and desist’ notice which he sent to his competitor making it clear that is is an offense to make use of electronic data for purposes other than it was intended.

3  Then he thought some more and recalled that the impersonation of a consumer by a business is also an offense.

Internet laws are much stricter than people realize.  And so they should be.  The rules for driving a car are tighter than the rules for walking on the pavement.

How many dodgy firms will be called to account through internet law?

It strikes me that there may be a parallel between internet law and tax law.

Very few people know that crooks are required to pay tax on their ill-gotten gains and that equally, tax officials are bound over not to report our nefarious dealings to the police or any other authority!

Governments are generally quite zealous about collecting taxes and do inventive things, like audit drivers of flashy cars, the keepers of yachts and persons whose conspicuous consumption exceeds their declared income.   This leads to crooks, like Al Capone, being busted not for crookery, but for tax evasion.

It strikes me that firms who sail close to the line and entice people to purchase their services with false claims might similarly find themselves, not being busted for fraud, but being busted for trying same wide-boy behaviour on the internet.

Gen Y know the rules and will enforce them!

Sharp operators need to watch out.  Gen Y are quite savvy and know the rules!

Have you seen any dodgy activity around electronic data recently?

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2nd tip for looking at the future value of professional qualifications

Olney Snow Feb 2 2009 Family Lunch at Much Ado...
Image by joolney via Flickr

Doing well by doing good

On January 21st, just in time to see the inauguration, I connected up the wi-fi at Much Ado, my favourite deli and cafe in Olney.  We watched Obama’s inauguration and the owner of Much Ado, Matt Prosky, was so inspired, he invested in a brand new netbook so customers are able to check their emails while they have coffee.  Bliss!

Today, I followed up what seemed to be a surprising bill from BT and with the help of James in Glasgow, we ended the afternoon by reducing Much Ado’s bill for internet services by 400 pounds (about USD600) – that is 400 pounds less than what they paid before they offered their customers wi-fi!  So they’ve recouped their investment in the netbook by twice over!

I love it.  Much Ado did right by their customers, and gained.

Good business does not mean being tight

So many people in business confuse controlling costs with being mean and cut-throat.

Of course, it is really important to control costs in businesses – we all know that.  When margins are as low as 3 or 5%, which they often are in retail (or even less), taking care of the pennies does indeed take care of the pounds.  I go even further.  I think controlling costs is an act of beauty.  It is almost as a form of reverence and worship, as I heard a lecturer in Islamic finance say on Radio 4.  It’s fun to plan a job of work and to execute it smoothly and within budget.

But controlling costs isn’t a matter of being “tight”.  Businesses do well when they do good. Business do well when they create value and wealth.

How will the internet affect businesses?

I’ve been puzzling over my own challenge to think through the impact of the internet on my profession. It is hard.  I like the idea of branding work with flowers.  I chose a red carnation for myself, meaning I carry a torch for you.

A second technique might be to do something for free just because you believe in it.  That helps us find the core of our business – though possibly a coach would help you see it more easily (I’m not touting here – I am strictly entrepreneurial ).

My favourite deli doesn’t offer wi-fi per se.  They offer hospitality shaped by the place and time in which they work.

What you do for free is probably your competitive edge

What do you do for free because you know it is right?

That’s probably the ‘competitive edge’ that distinguishes you from non-professionals who offer a similar service.  That’s probably the subterranean skill which underpins your profession.

If you can tell me what you do for free, then I can ask the next question.   How do we express that skill in the days of the internet?

Yes this works.  How can a psychologist, for example, express commitment to their clients with internet mediated services?

What do you do for free because you know that it is right?

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Surprised and delighted by Britain

Today’s hero!

I have to be honest.  My favorite people have verve, drive, audacity, panache and plain zest for life.

Today, I met GarethLRoberts for about half-an-hour in Olney‘s delicious coffee shop, MuchAdo.

Today’s project

Gareth and I had a quick chat about a tantalizing mixture of IT networks and the hidden highways and byways of rural England: cereal farmers (not serial, cereal!), millers, bakers and eaters.

GarethLRoberts bakes a mean cherry focaccio. Quite scrumptious and delectably breakfast, lunch or supper.  Gareth also does the buying for MuchAdo at London markets.  Every Wednesday night, he drives down and buys our vegetables from Covent Garden and our fish from Billingsgate.

Within hours of our brief chat together using the WiFi provided by MuchAdo, Gareth had his new blog up and running: Connecting with Bread!  Congratulations!

Watch his space!

I hope you will all go over, welcome him to the blogosphere, and bookmark him.  He writes well and he is going to make you feel so well acquainted with rural England, you’ll think your mouse is scurrying across a corn field!

An example of social media helping us be surprised and delighted by Britain!

PS

I’ll pick up some SEO issues later.  For other blogs of Olney, check our blogroll on Olney100.   I am cataloguing the online activity of Olney in Buckinghamshire, England in the UK (or Bucks to the natives).

Flowing motion!   Oh, I do love it when a plan comes together!

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Fractal . . . and positive psychology

Phoenix de Julia

So what does fractal mean in plain language?

In the social professions that are my milieu – psychology, HR, workplaces – fractal means “walking the talk”. It means using the working procedures you would like to see in an organization to bring those working practices about.

It means delivering democracy through democratic means.

It means having the same pattern of organization throughout the organization.

I attended the Bucks08 Social Media Camp

at Bucks New University in High Wycombe on Saturday 17 May 2008. It was organized by Chris Hambly and kindly hosted by Bucks.

It was an unconference. It is free, and registration is simple on an open wiki. Any one who wants to present, signs up in the room and time slot of their choice. It is gently organized with people changing rooms on the hour as they wish.

Around 60 people converged from as far afield as Brighton, Leicester, Nottingham and Sweden (yes, it was international with people from at least 7 countries there). Personally, I went to sessions on

How was this fractal?

Social media capitalizes on self-organization. We provide a framework where people can “read and write”. Social media is a framework in which the audience has a voice.

An unconference is minimally structured and, far from being disorganized, captures the energy of people with a purpose. So it is fractal in the subject matter is participation and the method of organizing is participative.

And then it becomes fractal again, because participants leave and blog about the conference on their own initiative and using their own resources. Before I had got home, a High Wycombe website designer, Paul Imre, had written up the session on metrics. Dan Thornton wrote up his take on social metrics with a parallel on reflecting on your marriage. Michael Clarke provided a running blog on the same session with comments on the whole day.

And it becomes fractal again, in that Dan & Paul summarized the discussion with the metaphors of marriages and  “investing in a dam” to build and release potential.  Dan’s metaphor was about managing social media.  Paul was talking about deciding how much to invest in social media.  In so doing, they effectively advanced the discussion and took it to another level. Within the afternoon, several people had replied, continuing the engagement, which I suspect will continue in other forums too.

Bucks New University must be very proud. They would have been happy, I am sure, with a smoothly organized event. This was so much more: it illustrated the power of social media, it supported a community of practice, it engaged new people, it generated new material.

To use Paul’s metaphor, investment that increases potential and to use Dan’s, when we enjoy ourselves, we come back for more!

PS The next media camp is at SAE in London on 5 July 2008.

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