6.01.2009

Finding Lean Jobs Today: ‘A Rifle, Not a Shotgun’

Companies looking today for executives with lean expertise want high-level people with a broad range of skills who fit what may be a very specific job description.

For job-seekers, that means your search has to be very targeted.

That is what I learned by speaking with Adam Zak, the head of Adam Zak Executive Search, a recruiting firm that specializes in filling lean positions (particularly those at higher levels).

I speak with Adam periodically about the state of the lean job market. This time he told me that yes, companies are hiring, but there is no “fluff” anymore in job descriptions.

As an example, he talked about a company that created what he called “one of the tightest descriptions ever written.” It was written that way because of the process that led to its creation.

“They clearly defined what that business unit’s goals were for the next 12, 18, 36 months, and what could derail them from achieving those goals,” he explained.

“They really took a very close and critical look at what are the resources they have, what do they not have, so what is the person going to need to accomplish? Then and only then did we set about creating a description.”

What this type of approach means to the job candidate, he said, is that “if you don’t hit nine-and-a-half or nine of the 10 requirements the company has laid out, you don’t stand a chance. On the other hand, the person who is well-qualified and willing to take the risk of jumping ship right now, that person, if they’re a strong potential fit and can really deliver performance and competence, has a much better chance of standing out, shining, and truly making a name for themselves.”

The biggest demand is for high-level people, such as division managers, he said, adding that companies “are looking for much more specific types of expertise, and jettisoning those people who may have been valuable contributors in the past but, going forward, are probably not the folks to have on board…

“Lean is different today. It is no longer just the Toyota Production System stuff…

“Companies are asking for people who have lean skills, Six Sigma skills, who understand the theory of constraints, who understand the broad nature of continuous improvement and how it ties into short- and long-term performance, how it ties into operational excellence.

“Every executive preparing for an interview should think about how can I drive performance better and faster, and how can I help this company move to cash more quickly.”

Adam noted that “Tech companies in general are doing much more hiring than the rust belt industries. There is money (venture capital) available both for startups as well as established companies.”

With startups, he said, “I actually heard a venture capital guy in Silicon Valley who said that if we begin our company, and we do lean and build it in, build in how we are going to form an organization, then at its roots we are talking about a company that believes in not wasting, not over-hiring and really being close to the customer. Lean is becoming very important for early stage organizations.”

Adam’s advice: ”For companies, use this time to truly understand the resources you have, your strengths both in talent as well as in ideas for innovation, new products, and how to better and more effectively approach customers in new markets. Now is the time to really be investing for the future. There’s an old lean saying, you’ve never been able to downsize your way out of a poor economic situation. You really have to be doing something for growth.”

For individuals, he suggests, “Now more than ever you have to use a rifle and not a shotgun in terms of focusing your attention on where you can add value. That’s going to take work… When you find that job, and when you understand how you can make that contribution and communicate that to the people who run the business, you will be the guy they hire.”

While job candidates typically post their resumes on LinkedIn and Facebook, Adam notes, “so did 15 million other people. What makes you different? When people connect with me and know how to solve problems, and have some idea of where, they’ve got a leg up on everyone else sending me a resume. “

Adam also said there are real lean opportunities today in connection with the growing green movement. I’ll describe what he said in my next posting.

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