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Building — and Being a Part of — the “A” Team

By Marji McClure

As we continue to see small signs of an economic recovery, the most successful organizations will position themselves for success — in both products and people — once the official rebuilding begins in earnest. One of the most important components executives need to focus on is ensuring that they have a team of “A” players in place to build on the opportunities available when the rebound occurs in full force.

The best executives must ensure they are recognized as “A” players among their own organization’s top brass; that they have been valued for their contributions throughout the recession and that their company intends to keep them on board to help lead the economic rebound.

Regardless of if they are the top talent or seeking it, executives need to know how to identify talent, where to find it and how to continue to develop it throughout 2010 and beyond. The search for “A” players will take executives out of their organization and into the job market, as they seek to “trade up” for new top talent or for a more fulfilling position for themselves.

“Trading Up” for New Talent

As the economy improves, the top talent that was apprehensive about making a move during the height of the downturn may now be more apt to explore the possibilities of a new position and more eager to accept a new career opportunity.

“Candidates are very informed these days and word gets around,” says Ford Myers, president of career coaching firm Career Potential LLC. “It’s not difficult to tell which companies hold these criteria as priorities, and which ones don’t. So the best way for a company to bring in the best outside talent is to let it be known that they offer and promote these factors.”

Many organizations are beginning to use a multi-channel approach to communicate to the marketplace. “More companies are tapping into the potential of social networking as a strategy to build their brand and, in doing so, raise their profile as an employer,” says Mark Hirschfeld, principal of human capital at SilverStone Group, a Nebraska-based resource management company.

At the same time, getting back to the basics (by offering more flexible work schedules and a positive work/life balance) can also help organizations show that they are a good employer and will provide a stable and supportive work environment. “Appeal to the more intrinsic value systems,” advises Diane Gallo, chief human capital strategist for California-based consulting firm CNC Strategy. “I think the last year has made people re-evaluate their needs in the workplace. Time off, flexibility and respect for their personal lives/styles and values [are important]. People who have been laid off feel unvalued; a new employer valuing them will go a long way.”

Myers, author of Get the Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring, notes how top employees seek career growth and development. They want to be listened to, and they want to be able to make an impact within their organization, he says, adding that salary isn’t one of the most important criteria they consider when seeking a new career opportunity.

“A great way to make workers feel valued is to invest in their development,” concurs Hayes Reilly, president of New Jersey-based Hayes Reilly Executive Search. “I am noticing that companies are finally investing in the assessment, train- ing and development of their workforce.”

“The companies we’ve studied who actually increased employee engagement in the midst of these more challenging economic times have done an outstanding job of rewarding employees based on their performance and what they con- tribute to the business,” says Hirschfeld. “Companies whose cultures are based on accountability have weathered this storm far better.”

Recruiting Former Employees

Many talented employees may have been laid off from your organization during the height of the recession, a time when effects on the bottom line, and not necessarily performance, led to the separation between these employees and the company. Of course, it’s very tempting to bring them back on board once you have the economic opportunity to do so. But, expert opinion is mixed about whether such individuals can again become productive and valuable members of the team.

Gallo advises against rehiring previously laid off employees. “The grief cycle will have been moved through and lots of feelings that don’t belong in the work- place could be close to the surface,” says Gallo, an ExecuNet member. She says that those former employees may say: “Why me?” or “I wasn’t good enough before, and now they want me back.” Or “Sure, I’ll come back, but won’t work at the same level. It didn’t get me anywhere before.”

These concerns by former employees are understandable. But they can be over- come, and the end result can be a strong, dedicated workforce that will help organizations succeed throughout the economic recovery and beyond.

Peter Rosen, president of HR Strategies & Solutions, a human resources consulting firm based in Georgia, says the circumstances behind an employee’s departure can oftentimes play a large role in the success or failure of bringing that employee back into your organization. “How an employer and employee handle termination says a lot about their character and culture,” Rosen explains. “So if the layoff was handled well, there is a lot greater chance in getting the employee back and the process of re-engagement won’t be difficult because they are very excited to be back.”

But both parties need to realize their relationship can’t and won’t be exactly the same as it was before they initially separated. “Even under the best of circum- stances, it is not likely that the rehired employees will ever feel as secure as they had been originally,” cautions Myers.

If You’re Asked Back

Myers warns that a return shouldn’t be considered “out of desperation.” It has to be what an executive wants for his career. “Before being rehired, it would be wise for the employee to have an in-depth conversation with the employer about terms and expectations of going back to the company,” says Myers. “At this juncture, employees are often in a position of strength — and they can therefore negotiate for a better package or enhanced role with the company.”

Even if some companies may not be able to offer the same higher salaries they did before the recession began, executives today can negotiate a profitable offer, notes Tom Mirgon, a Maryland- based chief human resource officer/chief administrative officer. He says that if an organization can’t meet an executive’s requirements for a base salary and bonuses, equity grants (stock options) can make the offer more appealing. “Most of them walk away [from the negotiation] thrilled,” says Mirgon, an ExecuNet member. “If the company does well, the payoff is better.”

Overall, an offer to return should be examined just like a job offer from a new company would be. Ask yourself similar questions about the role and company as you determine the fit. “Look at the rehire offer as you would a new offer, without all the emotional baggage,” says Pat Schuler, president of Minnesota-based The Gemini Resources Group, an organization that helps leaders better manage their sales reps. And don’t return to your former company in a lower-level position, unless you specifically want a smaller role than you previously held, adds Mirgon.

Always an “A” Player

Regardless of whether you’re in transition and searching for a new position or you just want to be prepared for the next career opportunity that emerges, it’s important to be able to communicate that you are an “A” player. Deb Dib, an executive coach and personal brand strategist, says that regardless of the econ- omy, executives need to focus on their career management processes. “You need to have a strategic plan for your career so you consistently stay visible,” says Dib. “You want to do that in [your current] company and in the marketplace.”

Rosen notes how important an activity such as networking can be when executives are trying to position them- selves for continued career success. “Strong networks with credible people with great reputations helps position someone as an ‘A’ player,” says Rosen. “Very practically speaking, people are judged by the people they hang out with.”

These people, and others, can also help you determine if you truly are an “A” player or not. Mirgon suggests using 360-feedback, through which executives can gain insight from their boss, subordinates and peers, about their performance. Mirgon says executives need to examine the gap between how they assess them- selves and how others view them. The wider the gap, the less self-aware they are the closer the gap, the more aware they are of their capabilities.

Continued Development

It’s important to keep in mind that if you are currently employed, you can demonstrate the skills you are using to perform your present duties and how they can bring value to a potential new employer. Show you are viewed in the marketplace as top talent.

“It’s critical to understand your work process and how you are effective,” says Dib. “Let that be known in the market- place, not just your accomplishments.” Dib says executives need to create their own personal public relations plan, a strategy that consists of networking, speaking, writing and mentoring. “Social media gives you a streamlined way of getting your word out,” Dib adds.

However, traditional ways to showcase your talents should continue to be used. Such methods need to be put into place regardless of your current job status. “Every executive needs to have a suite of career documents, so that if something happens, they don’t have to scramble” to create what they need to yield a successful job search, says Dib. She adds that it’s important to keep a job journal. Be able to tell people what you’ve worked on and what the outcomes of your actions were.

“I hope one lesson that all of us can take away from the last 18 months is that we really don’t know what the future may hold, so we should be doing everything we can to prepare ourselves if/when we are back in the job market,” says Hirschfeld. “Executives need to stay abreast of how shifting/emerging trends will impact their ability to produce results. Such change is coming at us more rapidly; executives cannot afford to get behind the learning curve.”

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