Monday, March 30, 2009

31st March-the time for stock taking!!

This is that time of year when the report card is due!!

In the context of all the media hype, it was really refreshing to meet an old pal of mine in the FMCG distribution business. Having been a second generation 'kirana' shop owner, he had over the past decade-spread his activities across the supply chain. C&F agency, a master stockist of premium brands, he had also got into the retail bandwagon -taking up a handful of franchises catering to the middle and upper middle class segment.

While the core business really wasn't affected-he had about 18-25% increase across the various FMCG brands -the retail foray was a sore subject. On one side, affected by the lack of helping hands at the 'mom and pop stores, he was quite caustic about the rise in real estate (read rentals) prices. At least half the franchises were rendered below break even! Apparently the 'retail/supermarket segment, being hit by lesser footfalls-and higher costs are very much driven by the dwindling impulse purchases -is up on the block!!

It was amazing. No place for frills. The habits of consumption are changing!!

It then struck me- wasn't such a stock taking happening in the HR field too?? March April -means performance measurement time!!Salary increments/promotions are being reviewed, there seems to be a case for unequal pay and perks. Treating top performers the same as weaker ones is "strategic suicide" as I quote from a recent issue of the Business Week:

Companies are getting better at deploying their techno-brawn to monitor, measure, and analyze their workforces—from those who placed which call that landed what deal to those who are infamous for talking up their work only to under deliver. These granular measures of performance are making it far easier to tailor rewards, doling out different deals to different employees. This will lead to a more Darwinian workplace.

Would you believe it? An acquaintance of mine , a bright alumnus of IIT along with a few peers has promoted a start up that provides solutions, Yardstick, as they call it, to help companies measure performances: the analysis helps in optimising one's headcount -or rightsize the company!!

Well..its indeed the survival of the fittest! And so it we at Options, realise that the hiring habits are also changing! Companies have become selective of whom they want to bring aboard!!

PS Here are  some of the openings that we are presently working on!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who is hiring in India now?

Looking back on a couple of my last month's posts on who is hiring in India, and changing nature of jobs, nothing much has changed since!

As a recruiter I feel the cycle time in closing positions has become longer!! For one, there is no low lying fruit, and each assignment is becoming tougher-as the employers now have a better choice in terms of talent available- and are in no hurry to hire since the competitions isn't !!

Validating my views are a couple of articles that Economic Times carried in the last few days!

Tough times call for tougher solutions! Companies are no longer content with 'maintenance or growth managers' without the skills required to manage crisis situations. Executive search firms are being asked to identify crisis or slowdown managers who have dealt with situations as varied as restructuring, mergers and downsizing. For example CFOs, HR managers who can take tough decisions, CIOs who can handle resource mobilisation during the current slowdown and CFOs to negotiate loans.
Another interview with a leading Executive Search specialist lists out:
the happening sectors: manufacturing, infrastructure, healthcare, mining, telecom, insurance
the sunrise industries : stem-cell research, drug development research, consulting in security and fraud management services-apart from pre-engineered building fabrication, personalised healthcare, clean technologies, power-plants.
the potential avenues :engineering services, avionics, defence electronic software and a whole avenue of healthcare software

Well, for those of whom are interested in knowing more about the specific mandates that Options is presently working on, here is a quick summary to some of the positions we are privy to!!
Happy hunting!!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Elections in India -Jobs??

Earlier this week, I had a call from Mr Reji John of Financial Chronicle-wanting to know my opinion if the elections in India could help the job scene in India.
To me-it was a stunner. Somehow, I have never ever realised if there was any direct correlation!
Over the last couple of months, I suspected though-that elections is perhaps one of the reasons why no new jobs were on offer!!
Looking back, it is shocking to realise that during the last 4 months, India has had only part time Finance Ministers!! Even as the whole world is reeling under the economic downturn, and other governments are trying all tricks to correct the situation, it is a sheer miracle that our country is still among the fastest growing economies in the world. Add a part time Prime Minister for a month around the time for announcing the fiscal budget -it certainly cannot be a great recipe for growth!!
One can imagine the lack of clarity on national policies would have certainly put a lot of projects on hold. Especially -post Satyam saga, and the rumours of nexus between industry and politicians, I feel, a lot of companies have delayed announcements of new projects till the elections are over-lest they attract any attention for party donations!! More so, since this time, it is an unique situation-both at the national and state (especially Andhra Pradesh where I am residing) levels, there does not seem any clear favourites among the parties in the race of power. Well, the candidates for the seats are yet to be finalised, and there is a great likelihood of disgruntled leaders-moving across to other parties even as we approach the dates. One shudders to think of a situation-post election-if coalitions need to be formed, and the consequent horse trading etc.
In any case, it is a known fact that the rural folks are the 'vote banks' for any party! So, I never even for a moment, had thought the 'urban voter' or even a 'job seeker' could be the beneficiary of any attention from any politician :-)!
Would elections lead to less job losses? I trust Reji was alluring to the re-instating of the Jet Airways employees post the political interference. To me that was more an exception -as the media pays more attention to the glamorous industries in urban areas-while blissfully ignoring the thousands of workers in the upcountry locations -read the diamond & textile industries!! Not to mention the thousands of those working in unsung SME sector-that is being hit by the global sentiments of the downturn!
Ironically-most running governments too -in the wake of elections, are forced not to take any decisions -lest they be termed populist measures. As I write, in Andhra, thanks to the power (the electricity kind :-)) crisis, the local industry is already languishing due to production losses! Do we see more announcements of losses of jobs not just in the manufacturing, but also IT/ITes industries as the margins are anyway thinning??
Its anybody's guess that a lot of unemployed and underemployed professionals might be available and motivated to land up at the election booths!!
Am I missing the larger picture?? I am looking forward to the usual offline messages from some of you :-)!
PS In the context, I am really surprised that BJP has announced a Information Technology vision!! I shall be glad to eat my own words!! Here is a prayer-may we raise hopes for a toast to more jobs-courtesy more evolved elections and better governance!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The New Normal

It is indeed impossible to have any conversation these days without referring to the 'slowdown' or 'recession' -and how soon it will be back to normal! I suspect I have often offended people when I mention that the past 4-5 years was 'not normal' -and the party is over now !!
As any cricket connoisseur would admit, 'life is Test cricket' unlike the recent & more popular smaller versions of One day and Twenty 20!!
So, I did feel a little vindicated when I came across a short essay by McKinsey’s worldwide managing director, Ian Davis. (courtesy : The McKinsey Quarterly)
It surely sets one thinking. I have highlighted some sentences that I feel are indeed worth mulling over.
The business landscape has changed fundamentally; tomorrow’s environment will be different, but no less rich in possibilities for those who are prepared.

"It is increasingly clear that the current downturn is fundamentally different from recessions of recent decades. We are experiencing not merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order.

For some organizations, near-term survival is the only agenda item. Others are peering through the fog of uncertainty, thinking about how to position themselves once the crisis has passed and things return to normal. The question is, “What will normal look like?” While no one can say how long the crisis will last, what we find on the other side will not look like the normal of recent years. The new normal will be shaped by a confluence of powerful forces—some arising directly from the financial crisis and some that were at work long before it began.

Obviously, there will be significantly less financial leverage in the system. But it is important to realize that the rise in leverage leading up to the crisis had two sources. The first was a legitimate increase in debt due to financial innovation—new instruments and ways of doing business that reduced risk and added value to the economy. The second was a credit bubble fueled by misaligned incentives, irresponsible risk taking, lax oversight, and fraud. Where the former ends and the latter begins is the multitrillion dollar question, but it is clear that the future will reveal significantly lower levels of leverage (and higher prices for risk) than we had come to expect. Business models that rely on high leverage will suffer reduced returns. Companies that boost returns to equity the old fashioned way—through real productivity gains—will be rewarded.

Another defining feature of the new normal will be an expanded role for government. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration permanently redefined the role of government in the US financial system. All signs point to an equally significant regulatory restructuring to come. Some will welcome this, on the grounds that modernization of the regulatory system was clearly overdue. Others will view the changes as unwanted political interference. Either way, the reality is that around the world governments will be calling the shots in sectors (such as debt insurance) that were once only lightly regulated. They will also be demanding new levels of transparency and disclosure for investment vehicles such as hedge funds and getting involved in decisions that were once the sole province of corporate boards, including executive compensation.

While the financial-services industry will be most directly affected, the impact of government’s increased role will be widespread: there is a risk of a new era of financial protectionism. A good outcome of the crisis would be greater global financial coordination and transparency. A bad outcome would be protectionist policies that make it harder for companies to move capital to the most productive places and that dampen economic growth, particularly in the developing world. Companies need to prepare for such an eventuality—even as they work to avert it.

These two forces—less leverage and more government—arise directly from the financial crisis, but there are others that were already at work and that have been strengthened by recent events. For example, it was clear before the crisis began that US consumption could not continue to be the engine for global growth. Consumption depends on income growth, and US income growth since 1985 had been boosted by a series of one-time factors—such as the entry of women into the workforce, an increase in the number of college graduates—that have now played themselves out. Moreover, although the peak spending years of the baby boom generation helped boost consumption in the ’80s and ’90s, as boomers age and begin to live off of retirement savings that were too small even before housing and stock market wealth evaporated, consumption levels will fall.

Companies seeking high rates of income and consumption growth will increasingly look to Asia. The fundamental drivers of Asian growth—productivity gains, technology adoption, and cultural and institutional changes—did not halt as a result of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. And Asian economies—though they have rapidly deteriorated in recent months—are unlikely to be stopped by this one. The big unknown is whether the temptation to blame Western-style capitalism for current troubles will lead to backlash and self-destructive policies. If this can be avoided, the world’s economic center of gravity will continue to shift eastward.

Through it all, technological innovation will continue, and the value of increasing human knowledge will remain undiminished. For talented contrarians and technologists, the next few years may prove especially fruitful as investors looking for high-risk, high-reward opportunities shift their attention from financial engineering to genetic engineering, software, and clean energy.

This much is certain: when we finally enter into the post-crisis period, the business and economic context will not have returned to its pre-crisis state. Executives preparing their organizations to succeed in the new normal must focus on what has changed and what remains basically the same for their customers, companies, and industries. The result will be an environment that, while different from the past, is no less rich in possibilities for those who are prepared. "
Unquote. I shall be glad to have an offline debate!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Manpower Survey 2009-India 'slower but most bullish' in hiring

The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, conducted across 33 countries with almost 72,000 employers worldwide, released today, reveals :
-Hiring expectations are decidedly weaker in all countries surveyed compared to 12 months ago.
-Employers in 13 of the 33 countries expect to add to their workforces in Quarter 2 2009.
-Despite a 17-percentage point fall in the outlook, India ranks number one!!
-Employment prospects are most favorable in India, South Africa, Colombia, Peru, Poland, China, the Netherlands and Costa Rica.
-Hiring expectations are weakest in Singapore, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand, Taiwan, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Personally, I feel it tallies with the general sentiment of 'wait and watch' policy by most Indian companies, after a long period of denial!! Some of the reasons could be related to the
-poor demand from the international markets
-elections that are due in April/May -(New projects may be deferred till then)
-poor business confidence across the sectors
-finetuning of inhouse systems in place -so that they 'catch the next wave upwards'!
However, I feel the kind of talent that are being sought in India is significantly different & better than ever before! Elsewhere in the US, an associate of mine Jason Connors, CEO, AllSearch Professional Staffing, Inc. concurs:

" In 2005, the war for talent existed primarily due to the growth and expansion of companies. Employers’ need for top performers in 2009 is an even more critical component in the fight to survive. In order to get the most bang for their buck as an employer, to get the highest levels of production in tougher times and to get back to growing their companies, employers will thrive again only by finding and employing the best of the best. "

I reiterate, those companies that do have substantial reserves in the bank-are truly having a double whammy. Not only are the 'hitherto inaccessible talent" becoming suddenly available, but also their salary expectations are much lower.
Isn't it a great time for the private players in the infrastructure industry? Added to the lesser cost of steel, and other raw material, the costs of execution is much lesser than last year!!
Are we geared up for the challenges ahead?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Indian Recruiters day on March 9th!

It was on March 9th 2000 that a group of senior professionals from the recruitment industry met and conceived of an association that would represent the needs and aspirations of the industry as well as strive to eradicate unethical practices.

ERA today has 8 chapters and 240+ members spread across India, representing the interests of Search, Staffing and Selection firms.

The Indian Recruiters Day is a day of celebration for the recruiters of India. Over 300,000 recruiters from across the country will rejoice in the light of the acknowledgment of their efforts to the Indian economy.On this day, ERA is planning a number of activities at each of its chapter locations to bring together all the recruiters.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Grabbing business in recessionary times!

We are into March already-two months have gone by in this calendar year! There seems to be a poor sentiment about the overall economy-not just in India, but all across the world.

Personally, I am convinced that the sudden drop in demand for Indian goods and services, both domestically and globally, is probably due to companies buying less, and often deferring fresh purchases as :

-in some cases because they have less money to spend.
-some companies that still have cash, are hoarding it because they are not sure how bad things could become in the short term & medium term, and
-some are simply feeling poorer because of their investments (land and stock markets!!) have come down in value!

Cutting prices will do nothing to spur the sentiment!! So, as organisations, one has to re-engineer the work we do, change the business models, and offering new value additions if one has to break the deadlock !!

I can see companies are beginning to revisit their hiring needs. "There is no role for an employee where it is not a business role! How long can one have a social responsibility (to protect jobs) ?" is a comment made by a CEO of a highly visible company!! Some others are re-investing in a different set of professionals who have the skills to navigate the troubled waters!

The mantra for the rest: Improve productivity or perish!!

It is surely a wake up call!!

Interestingly, it was Jim Stroud who tipped me that Chandra Bodapati was visiting Hyderabad!
Chandra has been a pioneer in developing the technology that enables sourcing for leads and candidates on the Internet-with a passion of making average people work like experts!!
An online interview made my job easier-and so I invited Chandra over to speak at our ERA Hyderabad chapter monthly meeting on Saturday!!

Here are some of the takeaways-for me- from the talk as he envisioned the recruiting world to be :

-Recruiters would soon have to pick between either being a "talker" or a "typer"!
Talkers tend to be social extroverts :they feel comfortable with oral conversations because they can gauge the response of their interlocutors in real-time, and they feel the need to hear and use non-verbal cues like intonation. Talkers love phones.

Typers tend to be more thoughtful and introverted, and hate live phone calls because they're time consuming and don't leave a searchable record. Typers tend to express themselves better with the written word, prefer e-mail, IM or SMS. He is involved in online generation of leads by activities like name sourcing, resume sourcing, background screening and data updation. ( A lot of these can be automated-helping research easier!)

-Increasing backlash sentiments against off shoring and outsourcing of jobs may give rise to a new set of jobs for local citizens, whose productivity can be enhanced with automation of some repetitive and low cost activities!

Companies are increasingly keeping an eye on 'cost of hire'. And changing their sourcing strategies, for example:

a) Nurturing candidate pipeline by
-identifying candidates 2/3 years before graduation, and engaging them in relationships.
-rehiring alumni -after a few years of their disengagement -as they a bring a fresh perspective with enhanced exposure.
-leveraging social networks to get 'cheaper' and passive potential employees.

b) Datamining internet -free and paid resume sources, e-groups, mapping conferences and events using tools like twitter.

c) building proactive database of possible hires. Today's active job seeker could become the star passive job seeker a year from now!!

Can we see what a 'talker' with a handful productive tools of a 'typer' can do??!

The challenge of any business or HR leader- is to ensure they address the need for new skills with the changing times!!