12.19.2007

The Market for Lean Jobs is Strong

Qualified people seeking lean management jobs are able to find more opportunities and higher salaries now than they did a year ago.

So says Adam Zak, managing director of
Adam Zak Executive Search, an executive recruiting firm specializing in lean positions.

I spoke with Adam about a year ago and called him again recently to see how the lean job market has changed.

“Everybody is after lean specialists at all levels,” he says. “Prices are going up. For most positions, they are easily 10 to 15 percent higher for the same role in terms of total compensation.” Also on the positive side for job-seekers, employers are “not as taken aback by the price tag.”

In addition, Adam says, “it is not unusual to see people looking at multiple offers if they should decide to make a change.”

One reason for these changes, he suggests, is that nowadays, when speaking with top company executives about the value of lean, “you are no longer speaking Greek. They all get it. For so many years, people equated lean with a being a non-fat organization, cutting people or resources. People understand today that lean is about continuous improvement. It’s about growth and not just about cutting costs. It’s gratifying to see.”

However, he observes that “people are now asking for Lean Sigma experience” rather than just lean or six sigma experience. “Most people do recognize that lean is the system and sigma is one of the tools that gets you there. Particularly at the very senior level, you can’t get it done with lean alone. The last four or five very senior level searches we’ve done have been for people with experience in both.”

One complication in the lean job market, Adam notes, is fallout from declining housing prices and problems in sub-prime mortgages.

“It is creating lots of problems for companies as well as potential candidates,” he notes. “More and more people are simply not going to move. That is particularly true where the company is a consulting firm and its people travel a lot, or they have very broadly dispersed operations, and the lean and six sigma people have to travel a lot. They ask, ‘why do I have to relocate?’

“If the company feels they do need to relocate, they have got to have a strategy right up front on what they are going to do about the housing situation.” That may involve helping a new hire sell or buy a house, offering an allocation for maintaining two homes, or other incentives. “In our last four searches this year, there was a problem. Some use creative strategies. In some cases, they paid for temporary living, hoping next year or so the situation will abate.”

Adam sees more hiring of lean specialists in service industries, ranging from software development to office processing to airlines. And in many cases, he says, “it has nothing to do with lowering costs,” but is focused on simplifying and/or standardizing procedures, among other goals.

One interesting development, he adds, is that “all the large private equity firms that are doing huge buyouts now have some type of executive who at very senior levels is responsible for continuous improvement – for figuring out how to drive lean sigma throughout their portfolio companies. And a part of their due diligence is to have some continuous improvement people on the analysis team.”

Asked about advice for job-seekers, he comments, “I am still amazed by the number of resumes I get where a person actually has very strong lean or lean sigma skills, but the resume is written in a very old-fashioned way, simply detailing their experience.”

Instead, he says, the resume should focus on “what was the problem, what was the solution I applied, what were the results. Strong lean leaders need to recognize that their resumes need to be a reflection of what was done, what the results were and what they did afterward.”

Also, more companies “are beginning to apply lean principles to how they actually do recruiting,” and they are seeking to eliminate paperwork and shorten cycle time. One result is “an increase in the number of initial telephone interviews. Quite often that initial contact is an hour to two hours. Your personality doesn’t necessarily shine through (on a call). There is no body language to see, no eye contact. People need to figure out how to do that more effectively.”

Adam believes that, even if the economy worsens in 2008, demand for lean executives will remain strong.

“Continuous improvement has become such an important part of so many companies’ broader, long-term strategy,” he says. “When they need to improve, lean and sigma are a key part of that. It is not a temporary thing. My sense is that these positions are becoming much, much more important to companies. In the bad times, they deploy them into more critical areas, so they can help fix them.”

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