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than an ‘and’ could ever do.

Are We There Yet? – The Ampersand June 2020

May 29, 2020

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


It has been said that life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer to the end you get, the faster it spins.  This explains, perhaps, why kids get so restless on a long car trip, desperately asking, as all restless kids do, ‘are we there yet?’ For them, at that time in life, from their vantage point, the journey may as well be endless. They don’t know the route, they’re not paying attention to mile markers or road signs. For them, the drive is unending and that’s what makes it so tedious.


Try as you might to sing about beer bottles on a wall, for those of you with children, or who were children at one point in your life, you’ll know the classic answer to that question, Are we there yet?!?. That answer is: Soon.


The beauty of the word ‘soon’ is that it’s wonderfully vague and it doesn’t bind you to any particular fixed time. The ambiguity allows you wiggle room, particularly when you yourself do not know where you’re going or when you’ll get there.  Soon is delightfully equivocal and buys the answerer of the question just enough time to formulate their next response the next time the question is posed, a few minutes later. A response which is, again, “soon” but said in a slightly different key.


Most of life’s adversities have a known end, at the beginning.  In for a root canal? You know it will be over in an hour or two.  Terrible date?  Overseas flight? Holiday school concert?  Pregnant with twins?  All of these things do, eventually and with certainty, end. And what gets us through them is our envisioning the other side. A life after the thing. It’s the finiteness that makes it bearable and keeps us sane.


How many times during the past three months of our shared pandemic have you uttered the words, “when this is over…” usually preceded by the words “I swear to God” and followed by a string of bucket list wishes punctuated with other Mad-Lib style fill-in-the-blank desires and destinations? Like some healing phrasal template we chant to keep our chakras balanced.


What makes the current phase of the Pandemic – this intervening period – so darn difficult is that we don’t actually know when it will end.  Soon has never looked so good.


Our friends and strategic partners at Creative Coaching, with whom we enjoy a mutually beneficial referral and knowledge-sharing affiliation, recently tackled the issue in their second Leadership Guide, this one focused on the concept of “Endurance Leadership.” Fans of a good analogy, as we are, they described the idea to us the first time they shared it, as follows:


“This intervening period requires a split focus: Leaders have to keep their foot on the gas, and their eyes on the road while trying to read the map. And the map is blurry. We provide tools for the question –  How do we keep, enable and support the focus within our teams to drive for results and success – not just stay on the road during the storm?”  We’ll let slide the issue of who actually uses a map anymore and focus on the thrust of their superb piece of work.


They describe the challenge of leading through this period of slow and uncertain re-opening as follows: “We believe this constitutes a new phase of the COVID-19 crisis as we move out of the initial response and into a sustained, intervening period as medical experts continue to work toward a full resolution. Leadership needs to be more intentional and resilient than ever before to respond to opportunities and innovate now, enabling present success and shaping, rather than holding out for, an unrestricted future.”



To pick up on the stormy road analogy, though we all jammed on the brakes in mid-March, skidding and sliding to the shoulder, we’ve since pried our fingers off the steering wheel, accounted for our passengers and taken a few deep breaths. We’re now focused on getting back on the proverbial highway; resuming our normal work and carrying on with our lives. In doing so, we are actually striving to be better drivers than before; not focused solely on “staying on the road during the storm” but, as the Guide suggests, innovating and pushing for results and success.  For our clients, and no less ourselves, that means, among other priorities, hiring.  For we can report that each one of us is getting older one day at a time and though it may not feel like it at the moment, the proverbial roll of career toilet paper is spinning just a bit faster today than it did yesterday.



Though obscured by the current crisis, there is still a war for talent. Baby Boomers are still retiring faster than those coming into the workforce can fill the talent void they will leave behind.  The “top 10%” of any graduating class is still only comprised of, well, 10% of the student body. Companies are laying off tenured people in droves, others are offering temptingly attractive voluntary departure programs. Yet the importance of having the very best people on your team, right now, and in the future, has arguably never been greater.


As you reduce the number of new grads you bring into the system, exit tenured people with skill and institutional memory, all with a view to preserving cash flow today, you are limiting your ability to remain competitive tomorrow.  Natural attrition and all the usual reasons that people leave will continue but if employers are deliberately reducing the size of the denominator at the front end, and the numerator (e.g. attrition rate) remains static (or goes up), they will pay a price down the road leaving no choice but to the fill those gaps through lateral recruitment. That, in short, is our raison d’être.


Consider that in a survey of over 5,000 Canadians conducted by EKOS (April 30 -May 7) 73% said they expected a “broad transformation of our society” and only 26% expect a “return to the status quo” after COVID-19. What makes you so sure that the people you brought into this crisis are the same ones who can see you out of it and into this new and transformed society? There are massively complex and fascinating questions being asked, just right here in our City, without even contemplating broader provincial, national and global transformations.


What makes you so sure that the people you brought into this crisis are the same ones who can see you out of it and into this new and transformed society?


And so, the journey continues.  Are there 84 bottles of beer on the wall?  73? 21? 689? Who knows.  Time is a strange construct in a pandemic. In March, we measured life in hours.  In April, we could see to June 6th. Then the federal wage subsidy program was extended and the fog again lifted to August 29th.  But it’s not enough to just survive, stare blankly out the window and simply will the journey to go faster. Rather, it’s time to enjoy the view and notice things you’d not previously had time or inclination to appreciate.



And what of us? Are we blankly staring out the window or actively appreciating the landscape?  I’m pleased to say that all of the things Creative Coaching says we should be doing, we are doing.  Endurance is our middle name.  I said it last month; I’ll repeat it again:  It’s actually never been easier to lead a search. The two biggest challenges related to any search – far greater than actually finding the people – are, rather boringly, scheduling and discretion.  Both are made exponentially easier in a virtual world.


Indeed, we are innovating now and shaping an unrestricted future; skating to where the puck will be, not where it has been. We hired a Director of Business Development during the current crisis, we are successfully piloting innovative ideas like secondments, tailor-made outplacement programs, interim solutions and even a unique twist on our annual Stampede Party is in the works.


In his 2011 article, “Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO,” Ben Horowitz wrote that a wartime leader “cares about a speck of dust on a gnat’s ass if it interferes with the prime directive.” Our prime directive is strengthening relationships — through flawless execution, extreme attention to detail, empathy and transparency. “That means making short-term concessions like adjusting fee and pricing terms to add as much value as possible today,” he said. “It means being equipped with real-time information about a client’s search, or providing reassurance and honesty around what’s realistically attainable in the near term” even when “near” feels so far away.


So, are we there yet?