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Your Long-Term Employment Survival Kit: Part 1 of 3

Interviews with Neil Patrick, owner of 40PlusCareerGuru.

PART 1: Which is better—Large U.S. Corporations or Small to Medium Enterprises?

Technology is driving the world towards a globally interconnected, multi-national economy. For better or worse, this change is happening quickly and will dramatically impact employment opportunities. Personal financial security will rest, in large part, on the ability of individuals to prepare and adapt as these changes take place.

NeilPatrick I decided to interview Neil Patrick for some tips for jobseekers as the employment landscapes causes some industries to disappear and others flourish. Neal is founder and owner of 40PlusCareerGuru an online job and career website for mature jobseekers that focuses on surviving and thriving the global jobs crisis. This is a “must-visit-often” website.



Q: What are the top concerns where you see large corporations struggling?

Neil: My conversations with top managers in global corporations typically revolve around their problems with:

Accountability.
This is one of those management speak terms that everyone talks about, but everyone has a different understanding of what it means. I think it should be removed from the management vocabulary. In many cases, ‘I am accountable’ means, ‘I am in control’. And I have authority over you in this matter. Well that’s great in a command and control structure, but how does it work in a cross-functional matrix structure, let alone one which is cross-functional, matrix and international? What we are seeing is that surprise surprise, organisational and behavioural norms cannot keep up with the pace of change!

Communication.
It’s ironic that in an age where we have more and faster communication tools available to us, instead of better communication, we are experiencing information overload. I was working with a senior management team recently where everyone present said that they were spending at least two hours at the start of every day reading and replying to emails, but that communication within the organisation was a big problem…

Motivation.
If a corporation cannot offer security of employment, personal development and meaning to its workforce, how can we expect those same people to feel connected and engaged with the organisation? I believe we are seeing a strategic failure of many HR leaders and executive teams to successfully address this challenge.

LargeTeam How many times have you heard a CEO say ‘Our people are our greatest asset’? Okay, that’s great. So if it’s your greatest asset, then how are you investing in it, protecting it and nurturing it? Where is HR on the Board meeting agenda? I’ll accept that the finance report should probably always be item number one, but at just about every board meeting I have attended, the HR Director’s report is towards the end of the meeting when all the ‘important’ topics have been dealt with and everyone is ready to call it a day.

And the metrics reported are completely inappropriate if people are truly the number one asset. I want to know about the balance sheet of the people asset not the P&L. In other words, is our people asset growing in value or deteriorating? And if it’s not growing in value, why and what are we doing to turn the situation around?

In my view, HR management needs to approach things more like asset managers than administrators. But they can only do this if the senior team recognises the key role of people and manifest this belief themselves and engage HR accordingly.

Q: For jobseekers who see large corporations as their first choice, what concerns should they have regarding future availability of employment?

Neil: On the one hand it’s quite simple I think. On the other, it’s hard to generalise. But I think broadly today there’s an inverse relationship between the size of the organisation and the security of your job. Different threats create different outcomes:

Restructuring.
Of course, bigger organisations can redistribute their people asset more easily if they need to. So, if your job disappears in a reorganisation, there’s a greater chance in a large organisation that the organisation will be able to move you elsewhere and you’ll continue your employment. In this situation, bigger is probably better.

Cataclysmic shocks.
As we have seen in the banking sector, shock events (however they come about) can create hundreds of thousands of job losses almost overnight. It made absolutely no difference if you were the best performing team member at Lehman’s when the organisation imploded. You became almost instantly unemployed. Period.

Corporate calamity.
Consider the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010. Cost estimates to the organisation vary – but taking into account all the costs, (not just the $20b direct compensation) $90b is quite probable. The stock price fell from £6.40 to around £3.00. It recovered a little later in 2010 but has remained stuck at around £4.50 forever since. Jobs impact? Almost zero. Some high profile senior execs were relocated in the business, but apart from that, everyone else carried on and some teams even grew as result.

SmallLargeFish_faceleft Contraction.
In this situation, the organisation will want to keep its best people wherever it can. If you’re a star performer, you’ll have a good chance of surviving regardless of the size of the organisation.

So I think a better question regarding employer choice for better job security isn’t so much the size of the firm, its more about the outlook for the business sector. Right now, energy businesses are generally showing good growth and future income prospects. On the other hand, financial firms are still fighting on several fronts – wrecked reputations, hostile media, increased capital requirements and uncertain future litigations and levies. It doesn’t really matter whether or not they deserve this from the point of view prospective employees. The fact is this macro outlook for the financial sector, means that at the micro level of the individual, you need to think carefully about what these things may mean to you. No-one is immune.

Q: What do you see as the future for mid-sized businesses – under 500 employees (again from a global perspective}?

Neil: I love SMEs! [Small to Medium Enterprises] I think firms up to 500 people are by far the most enjoyable to work for. They have a human scale. They are small enough that you can know everyone there, but big enough to achieve amazing things. They typically have a can-do attitude and a leadership team that’s closely connected to the business at the sharp end. They are small enough to be quick on their feet and respond to opportunities and threats more easily than larger organisations.

SmallTeam Once you get above 500 people, we often see negative aspects emerging such as silos and internal rivalries, deteriorating customer service, divided management teams, communication breakdown, loss of focus.

If I had two similar job offers one from a major global blue chip organisation and another from a young and dynamic SME, I’d choose the latter every time!


Next week (August 30) this interview will continue with Neil’s thoughts on:

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