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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

We are indeed experiencing a business inflection point. I've seen this happen once before -- in 1992. That inflection had more real drama than than this one but I expect the current events will also be remembered far in the future.

Consider this unusual set of circumstances.

As noted previously, we posted career opportunities for two new employees, one clerical and the other in sales. Traditionally, the clerical work is the easiest position to fill -- finding a suitable sales representative, however, can be like finding a needle in the haystack.

Our screening process nevertheless narrowed down two finalists for the clerical opportunity. One came in for work on Monday, but at day's end, my intuition sent out strong warning signals.

The second candidate was supposed to come in for the work-test today. She didn't show.

So after our current administrative person leaves today, we are going to have no one in the office -- for a while. I am reposting the administrative position, redefining it somewhat, and will ultimately find the right candidate.

Meanwhile, we are in an interesting situation where two very qualified individuals have applied for the sales opportunity. Both took an online sales test, and both scored in the highest percentage responses, something I've never seen since I started using the test about two years ago. I describe the test in our bi-weekly electronic newsletter. If you aren't already a subscriber, you can start your free subscription through this weblink.

It is rare to find one competent and talented salesperson when placing a recruitment ad -- the fact that we have a competition with two truly capable representatives is indeed beyond the odds of probability.

Another inflection point signal: I opened today's mail and discovered two substantial mid-four-figure cheques, representing royalties from Canada's photocophy rights agency. We earned this money by filling in a simple form; the wonderful thing, is the money will come in like clockwork this time each year from here on in -- with no additional work required. It is income that feels like it comes from a fantasy world.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Blogs have many uses, and this blog (and the most recent posting) has proven to be helpful in our recruiting/selection process for the new administrative and sales staff.

I sent everyone who applied an email with a link to this blog. On Friday, I reviewed the candidates who had completed the questionnaires.

As expected, only about 1/4 of the people who initially sent in their resumes bothered to answer the questions. I had 15 completed questionnaires from people looking for the administration/support position, and 5 from people wishing to apply for the sales opportunity.

It didn't take me long to narrow down the short list for phone interviews for the administration position. Many people, it seems, don't understand basic grammar or arithmetic (or know how to find the correct answers with some resourcefulness). Now, I only had four names on the phone list. One candidate declined the opportunity when I explained there were no 'benefits', and the other, unfortunately, had very poor spoken english (though she submitted perhaps with assistance an excellent written response).

This left two finalists for the admin opportunity. They will be coming in four four hour (paid) shifts, one today and the second tomorrow.

On the sales side, I had five responses, but two stood out for their thoughtfulness. Both communicated effectively with me by email BEFORE answering their questions -- the others, it seems, dashed off quick 'off the top' responses. Realistically, if you are going to have any chance at sales you are going to need to be able to build some sort of relationship. These two finalists will be working one day each this week on a really basic (again paid) telemarketing task -- the work I've asked them to do is not overly inspiring, but allows for a rapid evaluation.

Some observations so far about the recruitment process:

1. Financial cost -- zero for advertising (government-operated jobs site is free), but I will pay hourly pay for the four candidates, about equivalent in cost to a listing on one of the more expensive job boards.
2. Time cost -- really low. It took me three hours on Friday to review the resumes, conduct the pre-screen phone interviews, and set up the appointments. I will of course need to spend more time this week preparing for the working tests and being around while the work is done. (Then again, the temporary employees are doing useful work themselves!)
3. Process integrity. Developing a self-selection system really reduces management stress -- it also allows the prospective employee to decide if he or she wishes to work in our organization. It also avoids arbitrary and perhaps discriminatory screening practices.

Can the system be faked? To some extent, yes. One of the candidates said she used a little help from Google in answering the puzzler questions. I told her, "great, that shows you have the resourcefulness to solve the problems." I suspect the candidate who wrote a great written response but had serious trouble speaking clear English (she is a very recent immigrant) had help in completing the original questionnaire -- certainly I had hoped to find an equally articulate person when I followed up with a phone call. Still, the screening proved to be totally fair -- I didn't 'weed out' the resume as unqualified, and the candidate with poor English had a chance.

Will it work for everyone? I'm not sure how effective this approach would be to fill scarce, high demand and very skilled positions. But it certainly has merit for many other opportunities.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The inflection point....

All businesses experience critical points of change that can lead to incredible growth or undeniable failure. Sometimes these moments are manifested in an immediate crisis; in others, the 'turn' is almost invisible and the owner and staff don't really know what is happening. In either case, decisions and events long before the crisis, coupled with immediate responses and a certain amount of luck and fate, determine the ultimate outcome.

Our business is now experiencing one of these amazingly important moments; one which on the surface looks to be truly challenging, but really gives me great hope for the future.

Last Friday at 3:30 p.m., our number one salesperson, who had worked with the company on pure commission for more than a decade, phoned me, distraught. About three weeks previously, following a conflict where I mismanaged a file, she had given her notice effective in 60 days. In the Friday call, she said she would need to leave immediately to deal with a family health issue. (At the time of the original incident, I took full responsibility for my mistake, and remedied the problem, but I did not beg her to stay.)

Then, on Monday a.m., just before our regular weekly conference call with contractors and team members across North America, our able and recently hired administrative person told me she had news -- she would be leaving very soon for a government job in her field of training, and would need to leave in approximately one week.

Three years ago, we had approximately 20 employees on the payroll, working from home office in Canada and in the U.S. Now we are down to one. Me.

Yet I know that this time next year, the business will be around, vital and healthy, with a solid core of great employees and a continuing expansion of the network of suppliers and contractors.

Consider these points.

The great salesperson who left us would not touch a computer. We can now hire someone much more comfortable in the on-line world.

A few years ago we developed an inexpensive, rapid, fair and systematic method of hiring new employees. It is amazingly stress free, totally complies with human rights/employment fairness rules, and allows us to avoid the traps of fakery and time-wasting screening and interviews. In essense, our system creates a self-screening process; and our interviews, when we are ready, are actual paid work assignments on temporary one day agreements -- we see how the prospective employee actually works before offering anything more permanent. So we will be able to fill the vacancies reasonably quickly.

The effective use of technology, and some practical experience that correlates with my grey hairs, allows me to get a lot more done in a lot less time than before. Thus we are continuing to publish our papers in Canada and the U.S., but now that I am doing hands-on work rather than delegating the editorial stuff to someone else, I can see simple and exciting improvements, and I am implementing them. We are also building up our freelance network and soon will be able to offer steady work to the best (and least expensive) freelancers we know. And we are making good progress in our move to electronic publishing.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I saw how the lessons learned over the past several years -- and enhanced by undersandings from corporate consultant Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company -- are expressed in our weekly Monday meeting. Contractors in Winnipeg, Vancouver and North Carolina, communicate effectively and keep posted about the business, its changes, and its plans. Despite all the changes around us, the business team is stronger and more cohesive than ever.

In a previous newsletter, I described the key pillars of success in business; passion, sincerity and respect. Today, as I temporarily wear the hats of human resources staffing officer, editor, publisher, IT manager, and business consultant, I am reminded of the importance of these values. Despite the stress, and the change, I am enjoying the experience and challenges. And there is a big difference from when we had 20 employees on the payroll -- we are profitable.

I welcome your comments, either through the comment function of this blog, or by email to You can also phone me toll free at 888-432-3555 ext 224.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Many new subscribers this week -- we have reached 424 subscribers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

This new blog, and the reduced frequency my e-letter, results from a survey of the approximately 350 readers (as of last week) of the letter. The survey, conducted for free using the site, resulted in 38 visits and 31 survey responses.

How close could you get in the results? Thirteen readers said "keep it weekly" and 14 replied that once a month is enough. Two of the remaining 5 'others' said that the newsletter should be published once every two weeks, and one suggested the solution I am implementing -- publish the e-letter every other week, with the blog updated at least weekly.

When I decided to survey the newsletter's readers, I went through some hoops. Googling for survey software initially led me to expensive commercial products. Then I found some open-source software that looked like it could do the job, but had trouble loading it on the server. Afer seeking bids from software developers on the web, I decided to see if my New Delhi based data entry contractor could handle the job. He said "sure' and the open source (free survey software is now loaded and ready to go for future use.

But while all this was going on, I remembered zoomerang, which markets its services effectively by offering a high quality free service augmented by various additional resources (which cost money). Zoomerang restricts the free access for 10 days from the start of the survey, and you can't download the results on the free version. For a simple, non-commercial resource, however it is fine.

I can't comment on the open source option, which I haven't tested yet, but it appears to have all the essential functionality of the more expensive products.