Author archives: Claudia Haque

Webinar: Leading through COVID-19

We’re all in this together. That’s why Acumen’s Suzanne Hanifin and her colleagues want to share their expertise with other local business leaders. Join this panel of experts in law, contracts, small business loans, staffing, investments and crisis communications for a conversation about leading through COVID-19. Bring your questions. It’s free, and you can register here: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_LkGNPY15RRexKkO1-p05Gg

Welcome to Your Future

Acumen was a sponsor for Columbia Bank’s “Welcome to Your Future” presentation. @Rick Pay and @Vinay Rao did a great job highlighting how ANY manufacturer can use artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning to improve profit, reduce costs and remain relevant in a connected world! If you missed the event and want to hear what it’s all about, register here to reserve your seat for the March 11th presentation in Beaverton.

 

Work Flexibility is the Key to Recruiting and for Building a Culture of Trust

The number 1 request from candidates is Work Flexibility. We, Acumen Executive Search, have been interviewing and placing Director-level through C-Level candidates since 2007, and this has been the case for 13 years. Today, with unemployment so low and top talent in high demand, it makes more sense for employers to be creative.

Many business owners, executives, and leaders talk about “work-life integration”, meaning that when they are on vacation, they check emails in the morning, play with the family in the afternoon, and return to work in the evening. If employees can practice this while on vacation, why can’t more businesses offer work flexibility to their employees? I know that there are industries that cannot offer work flexibility, but many organizations can!

I read a Harvard Business review article titledBill Gates says This 1 Employee Perk is Most Important. A New Harvard Study Backs Him UpI find the statistics amazing. When the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office implemented work-flexibility, they saw 13.5% increase in production from their workers. But what was interesting was that the work-flexibility did not require workers to work from home or from work 100% but allowed them to decide where to work. We know that with technology, we can work anywhere, including when we are on vacation.

The Acumen Approach – Now Backed By Behavioral Science

Acumen spends a great deal of time with our managerial through executive-level candidates.  First and foremost, as true partners with our client companies, we need this time to ascertain the candidate’s ideal position, cultural and core value alignments, and a multitude of other factors making them the one right candidate for our open opportunity.  Secondly, we genuinely develop meaningful relationships with our candidates and want them to succeed.  During interview coaching, one of Acumen’s most highly stressed suggestions is to never answer an interview question with a yes or no but rather, tell a story.  A story that doesn’t talk about what the candidate may have done in the past but instead helps the hiring manager envision how the candidate can be additive and help with specific challenges facing the organization.

Recently, I attended a Link event at which Mr. Larry Shoop was giving a presentation titled “The Science and Power of Story.”  I knew I had to attend on the title alone given the potential significance to one of Acumen’s core tenets and I am so glad I did. In addition to being with a dynamic and fun group of ladies and hearing an amazing presentation, I learned a statistic I was previously unaware of.  A statistic that gave the team here at Acumen further conviction in our approach.  I learned behavioral science shows a staggering 95% of all decisions are first made emotionally while rationalization and reasoning follow later.  As human beings we are wired to learn through stories, we are going to remember the stories which trigger an emotional response and those emotions are going to color our decisions.  I also learned the average attention span is now just 5 minutes; not a lot of time to leave a memorable impression and further underlining the importance of making an emotional connection with your audience.  Apparently, this is all simply science and the Acumen team couldn’t agree more!

As a recruiter I conduct a lot of interviews and my most insightful interviews occur when the candidate opens up and starts sharing applicable stories.  I am able to develop an essential rapport through shared stories.  I get to see what is really behind that nervousness as the candidate relaxes and I often gain valuable information I wouldn’t have otherwise received.  The content, structure and even subject matter of candidate stories help us to better understand their motivators, core values, personalities and much more.  With over 12 years of success following our proven process, it was exciting to hear about the science behind why it works!

 

How One Well-Placed HR Business Partner Can Transform an Enterprise and Mitigate Risk

The Challenge

A decades-old international transportation company was urgently in need of a cultural shift in order to support safety, compliance, leadership development, and effective recruitment goals. They needed a strategic HR leader who had the ability to lead through influence following the strong Founder’s departure. The company HR department was sorely in need of solid policies, procedures, mission alignment, and effective leadership.

The HR Business Partner knew the opportunity would present big challenges going in due to Acumen’s transparency regarding the gaps — and he was excited to take them on.

The organization had recently lost their Founder. It was apparent that the right tools from a leadership, personnel, cultural, and compliance perspective were lacking. Leadership needed support and education. The Founder had a positive, “paternal” leadership style and was the person who generally “held everything together.” Upon his departure, the organizational gaps lead to a loss of trust between HR and the rest of the organization. As typical of mid-sized company business owners, he had a hand in every aspect of the company and was a natural born leader. “Many employees stated that he just ‘made the whole thing work.’ If there was an HR problem, he would listen to both sides and make a decision and everyone would say “yes, sir.” Any company with that kind of leader is going to be successful when they have a maestro making it all happen.”

Once the Founder had departed, the new HR leader would have the challenge of transforming the culture and introducing policies and procedures to remedy the lack of effective HR management. It would be crucial to implement compliance and establish a safe, positive, inclusive work environment that mitigated risk.

This HR Leader would need to work as a true partner to the executive team, understanding the history, the business strategy, the diverse personalities of the employees, and HR law to be effective. He would not succeed if he was a “my way or the highway” type of individual; he would need to be a leader who could lead through influence and engender trust to get the job done. Needed was a kind, collaborative leader who listens, while explaining why being compliant was beneficial and essential to the organization as a whole. He also needed to be a knowledgeable HRBP who was able to command the respect of the executive team to allow him to execute on leadership development initiatives.

The Solution

Acumen quickly identified 3 strong potential candidates for the role that had the dual experience in both HR and Safety the role required. Jon not only had the right mix of industries in his background, but he was a hands-on strategist with experience overseeing the facets of HR that needed the most help. This included championing a big cultural change through change management – moving a large organization into embracing compliance and leadership development. Executive Leadership acknowledged him to be a strong cultural fit – a strategic HR Leader who was thoughtful, knowledgeable, and collaborative while being an expert in safety, compliance, training, leadership development, and recruiting. He was a leader who made promises and fulfilled them. He got the job done.

The timeline from when Acumen identified Jon as a strong candidate to when the organization made him an offer of employment took two weeks. Thanks to the great partnership with the CFO, the process ran smoothly and effectively. While placements of HR professionals in more rural areas generally take much longer, Acumen credits their strong, efficacious network which supported the swift identification and relocation of Jon.

Results

Within a few weeks, Jon addressed many organizational gaps and started performing a cultural overhaul. Executive leadership was impressed with the HR training he developed for all management which had employees flying in from both international and multi-state locations. He put together a

5-hour session “HR 101” to ensure cohesion and that everyone was “singing from the same song book” to encourage alignment to avoid liability. The session focused on leadership training and accountability. They reviewed employee lifecycles, progressive discipline, and termination. They were also provided with structured interview processes, “here are the 5 questions we are going to ask all candidates and then there will be 4 that vary for each work group.” Jon implemented effective hiring practices, suggesting that there must be at least 2 people interviewed for every open position. “I helped install rules and procedures, leveraging myself as a business partner, rather than internal affairs.”

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and went from “I don’t want to be here, I’m being forced to do this” to “This was exactly what we needed” and staff and management appreciated the skill required to put together and deliver good, meaningful content. “It was personable – interactive, but not cheesy. We focused on accountability vs. responsibility. Managers may be good at what they do but they don’t always have a good handle on what they do. It’s about developing others and holding them accountable. For example, I don’t need the Director of Maintenance to be best guy to use a wrench – his job is to manage, coach, inspire and be a leader more than having operational skills. It’s about making sure they know what accountability looks like.”

“Initially, there was a fair amount of resistance (to compliance) and it’s legitimate, I’m just the HR guy – I’m not turning the wrenches.  There are a lot of crazy things that can happen in the world today. We need to control every single thing we can control, so crazy doesn’t take over. Let’s be prepared and wear the harness. We need to wag the tail – not let the tail wag us.”

Jon worked with the Executive leadership team to conduct salary reviews.  “Everyone saw an increase. We haven’t done significant increases for everyone in years, so this was a big positive. We pay well in some ways and in others we don’t. What we saw was cost of living going up and inflation. We had lots of people who have not seen a raise in 10 years. We had to make that right and compensate for insurance premiums going up. The next round of increases will be performance-based. I will be installing a review process – the President really wants to do this. Hopefully by third quarter.”

Jon has also had some creative ideas around recruiting, and how they can attract candidates from larger markets. He is also working with leadership to craft vision and mission statements and define the organization’s core values. The process is slowly unfolding, and he is coalescing all employees around their greater purpose.

Satisfaction with Opportunity

Jon feels he has been given a “seat at the table” and that the opportunity was a great fit for him. “I have been invited to the table and as I prove to be valuable and demonstrate how vital my role is and my ability to do that role. I definitely feel valued and appreciated and have the ability to make positive changes – and do it quickly.”

Jon foresees a long-term relationship with the organization. “They are supportive, responsive and appreciate me.”

When it comes to effectiveness with the staff: “Everyone is cautiously optimistic. It’s important that HR has credibility, that HR models the change we suggest, and follows through. If I say, I’ll get back to you tomorrow, I’ll get back to you tomorrow – I make sure of it. If someone asks for something, ask when do you need this by? And I’ll commit. Then that puts the pressure on me and gives them an experience that I can be counted on. Once you have credibility, everything else falls in place.”

Working with Acumen

“Your team (at Acumen) are very communicative – a big pro. Anyone who works through the process is going to be happy because you are always communicating. I could call and ask questions and you were very up front. Your process is really good. I ended up with a great job that I’m happy at where I get to make real change. My manager is smart, supportive, and a great mentor. I want to be him when I grow up.”

“HR is so important—I touch about 180 members of staff and their lives. I think Acumen was honest about the company and the opportunity – I think the issues ran even deeper than they knew. We were out of compliance for many years. It’s not an overstatement to say that I saved the company liability.”

By Molly Norton

Acumen Executive Search is proud to announce the successful placement of Ted Allen as Consulting Chief Financial Officer for PlusPoint Consulting.

Acumen Executive Search is proud to announce the successful placement of Ted Allen as Consulting Chief Financial Officer for PlusPoint Consulting.

 

About Ted Allen: Ted comes to PlusPoint with over 25 years of finance and operations experience in SaaS software, technology, Big 4 public accounting, higher education, and services organizations.

Ted has experience working for a range of different types of organizations: from small, entrepreneurial software organizations experiencing successful exits to global, publicly traded Fortune 500s.

He shared that the PlusPoint model deeply resonates with him as he enjoys the “art” of consulting, which is reliant on skilled problem-solving and identifying opportunities for optimization. He enjoys working at the intersection of finance and operations while optimizing people, processes, and technology; building efficiencies; guiding and directing transitions; and everything in between.

About PlusPoint: PlusPoint allows you to supplement your accounting and finance team by outsourcing with PlusPoint’s professionals who provide immediate support and skills in times of change or transition, as well as knowledgeable planning, executive counsel and direction over the long term.

About Acumen: Since 2007, Acumen has been the premier boutique, woman-owned Executive Search firm in Oregon with global clientele. Acumen works holistically and strategically with their clients to deeply comprehend their business and culture, to facilitate critical hires who can help solve meaningful problems. Our clients experience higher retention rates (over 3X the national average) which result in lower costs and higher productivity. Visit https://www.acumenexecutivesearch.com/

Finding True Professional Fulfillment

By Megan Castleman

For the majority of today’s workforce, more waking hours are spent during the week dedicated to our professions than spent with family and friends.  For many, our professions blend into personal time as we check emails in the evenings, maybe send off a quick note we didn’t get to during the day or even take calls from a different time zone to accommodate a client.  The point is, a significant portion of our lives is focused on what and who we are professionally.  Why, then, is it so many find themselves dreading getting up in the morning, forcing themselves into the shower and on to work only to arrive back home completely depleted and devoid of energy, making it difficult to enjoy their precious family time?  Or finding themselves losing the early morning battle with that inner voice who is insistent they stay in bed, end up calling in and subsequently dealing with a horrible sense of guilt for doing so?  Or even struggling with resentment towards their employer, management or peers because they feel undervalued and unheard?

We all have rough periods of time at work.  Perhaps we have a huge client presentation due and have been burning the midnight oil for the past few weeks.  Maybe it’s tax season or we’ve been scrambling to meet the deadline for a large technology implementation resulting in long hours being fueled only by cold pizza from the breakroom.  These types of relatively short-term, cyclical exceptions happen in a lot of professions and it’s completely normal to feel worn down and even needing to take a day or two off to recoup.  What is not normal is losing the battle with that inner voice for the 3rd time this week only to realize it’s just Wednesday.  If the latter is happening to you, it is time for some serious introspection because something is amiss.  You should start by asking yourself these three questions:

  • Are you excited and fulfilled by the primary objectives of your profession?
  • Do you have a strong alignment with your employer’s culture, vision and mission?
  • Do you have access to quality leadership?

When you are in a profession you love, are closely aligned with company culture and values, and feel valued and heard by leadership, the paradigm will shift.  You will find yourself passionate about, as well as excited, energized, and fulfilled by, your profession.  You will feel strongly about your company’s values and mission, working together with your peers towards a common goal while receiving strong support from leadership.  No longer will it be a constant struggle to rouse yourself from your warm, cozy bed in the mornings and, rather than using your time in the shower bemoaning the fact you must “adult” today, you will find yourself strategizing about potential accomplishments and goals for the day.  You will be more present and engaged during family time.  You will be more productive both professionally and personally.  You will feel impactful and valued.  You will experience a deep personal satisfaction and increased professional drive.

At Acumen Executive Search, we are a group of professionals who are deeply passionate and knowledgeable about the impact of having cultural, mission, and core value alignment between our client companies’ and the leaders we help place.  This alignment is so absolutely critical, it is our number one focus from the time we begin the discovery process with our client companies, continuing with the sourcing, interviewing and recommendation of candidates, through our follow-up case studies and long-term client relationships.  We know true success only occurs with genuine alignment, we have proven it.

It can be scary to realize you are not a fit for your current company culture or in the wrong profession altogether.  Change can be difficult for all of us and coming up with a plan of action can be a daunting task.  However, there are many resources available such as career, personality and core value assessments which can help you narrow your field of choices and career coaches who can help you implement a plan of action.  Yes, it can be overwhelming to think of such significant change but the rewards are invaluable.  Do not waste any more time trying to fit the proverbial square peg into the round hole.  The ability to live your dream now is a life changer and, I strongly believe, life is way too short to spend it any other way.

Outsourcing & Company Culture

By Megan Castleman

I recently attended a seminar on using outsourcing as a strategic business tool and it provoked some thought. It is oftentimes a fiscally sound decision to outsource certain business operations or even as a short-term, cost-effective way to manage implementing important initiatives where long-term human capital would not be needed. However, I had to think of the potential effect on what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of any business – culture. Is it possible to outsource certain functions while minimizing impactful effects to company culture? I believe the answer is yes when great care is taken in selecting the right outsourcing firm while ensuring you have the right internal personnel providing oversight of the outsourced function.

–         Determine the “Why”: Understand why you need to outsource a particular function. Do you lack internal staff with the necessary expertise? Is this a one-off project that you need additional human capital resources for implementation but not for long-term maintenance? Is it more cost-effective to outsource than to pursue an internal hire? You should be come to the table with a clear understanding of the “whys” behind your decision.

–         Define your Needs: Before even starting the process of finding an outsourcing provider, you should clearly define the scope of the function for which you need outsourced assistance. For example, you need to add human capital at the executive level and have decided to use a firm like Acumen Executive Search to help. You should have a basic understanding of the job description, experience and educational requirements, and timing. A good outsource provider will be able to fine tune these details but having this basic information to start the process is essential.

–         Interview: Any outsource provider should be interviewed as thoroughly as a potential internal hire and should be able to clearly articulate its mission, core values, culture and unique value proposition. If they are not able to do so or if what they are proposing doesn’t align with your own mission, core values, and culture, then they likely are not a good fit.

–         Do your research: The internet is a treasure trove of information, both good and bad, and a great place to start your research on outsource providers. The arrival of job engines such as Glassdoor and Indeed have provided a resource for employees to post, anonymously if they choose, the good, bad and ugly of working for a certain firm. You can get a good feel for what employees think about working there and, if they are not happy, you probably won’t be either. At the very least, you can address reoccurring issues with the stakeholders to understand their awareness of these issues and how they are addressing them. You should also read any testimonials on the provider’s website and realize you can, and should, request references. This is especially key when working with providers lacking a presence on job boards. Remember, you want honest, transparent feedback to ensure the provider is the right fit.

–         Assign Appropriate Oversight: An internal staff or leadership member who has a deep understanding of all of the above points should be assigned to manage the outsource relationship. This person should be knowledgeable and empowered to make key decisions, including ending the relationship if it is not working out.

In short, outsourcing, when managed correctly, can be an invaluable tool to accomplish business initiatives in a more cost-effective, timely, strategically advantageous, and culturally sensitive manner.