Where Does the Time Go? Celebrating a Five Year Anniversary of an Awesome Staffing Company!

Wow! Where does the time go?  I’m pretty sure most of it passes while your head is down doing the work!  As I lift my head up today for a brief moment on our five-year anniversary, I want to acknowledge all the people who helped Ursus reach the five-year mark, poised to embark on what I believe are our best days yet to come.  Five years ago, Cheryle Peikert, employee number one, and I sat at a small deli in Silicon Valley and mapped out our plan.  “The plan” looks very different now than it did then.   As with most business ventures, the course zigged and zagged and rarely ran a straight line, but over the last five years a few things have remained constant.

  • Quality.  And the commitment to The Ursus Way which serves as our both our rallying cry and the foundation of the company’s culture.
  • Innovation. Not everything we’ve tried has worked, but plenty has including the recent launch of our Certify U! Cloud Apprenticeship program this month and our Hiring University! Podcast that this week dropped Episode 10!  Three years ago, we made a decision to ditch our physical office space and manage our team virtually.  Many said I was crazy. Some clients thought less of us.  Now, in the midst of the pandemic, it feels we may have been ahead of the curve. 
  • Growth. Our technical and creative staffing and services business have doubled in size each year.  Despite Covid-19, we will be close to doing so again in 2020!

To our amazing clients, partners and especially our contractor base, THANK YOU for putting your trust in Ursus!  To the entire Ursus Team I appreciate and continue to admire your effort, your professionalism, your passion, commitment and loyalty to Ursus. To all my family and friends who have supported me along the way and encouraged me to keep grinding it out; there is absolutely no way I would have made it this far without each of you.  To my former partner Don “DJ” James, who I parted ways with amicably halfway through to this point, thank you for your mentorship, continued support and friendship.  To Mike Panico and Doug Cain who not only invested early but reinvested in Ursus through choppy waters, I can never thank you guys enough. 

While there have been plenty of bumps, bruises, long and stressful days along the way, there have been many more moments where I have felt immense pride representing our brand and gratitude knowing I am associated with what I believe to be a world class team.  There is much more work to do and I’m as energized and bullish as I have been at any point in our five-year history.  Let’s go!

Greatness is a Choice

Most people probably have said to themselves and others, at various points in their lives: “I want to be great!”, at being or doing something.  Expressing that desire is good, but not great; put differently, wanting to be great is a necessary but insufficient step towards greatness. What steps are sufficient to achieve greatness? And are you willing to take the many thousands of steps required? Answering these questions will determine whether you have the discipline to identify, take, and sustain these steps as not just means to an end, but as habits that (if repeated and ingrained) will enable greatness.  Wanting to take those steps and form those into such habits is good, but what you want doesn’t matter. What you’re willing to do, and sacrifice, to live habits that provide you the chance at greatness (because greatness is never guaranteed), does matter.

In the corporate world, as an executive or management team member, how do you nurture and model the habits that enable your employees to truly seek—not just want– and achieve greatness?  At the end of the day, my job as Founder and CEO at Ursus is to provide my team (management and employees) what they need to take their own steps towards greatness.  I don’t have to glow with greatness like a golden statue; it’s not about me. But I must create, build, and reinforce a corporate culture that gives them the opportunity to achieve greatness, and drive the success and prosperity of the (whole) enterprise in which we are all invested.

Early in my career, I was fortunate to have managers, coaches and mentors who instilled in me the importance of building a team or corporate culture that supported individuals’ and the enterprise’s success, rather than glorifying superstars and/or constricting individuals’ chances to be great.  Sadly, in this day of “celebrity” founders who enjoy their own glow, the professional culture in which I was “raised” is becoming rarer, and more difficult to establish. Examples are readily available, but the well-publicized examples such as The WeWork debacle and the rash of incidents and issues at Uber are quintessential; in both cases, ostensibly financially successful companies were built solely on the ideals, ego and arrogance of their founders, at the expense of their employees. .  The almost inevitable result is a culture that is nothing more than an echo chamber of one person’s opinion rather than the collective and shared expertise, experience and often wisdom of the employee base. And, equally inevitably, when the “magic” of the founders was tarnished or (in the case of WeWork) discovered as fraudulent, the companies’ performance and formerly glowing financials suffered. Ellen Pao’s excellent  piece in the October 2018 issue of Wired Magazine “Tech Founders’ Absolute Power Is Destroying Company Culture,” examines this grim phenomenon in more detail. So, how do executives and their management teams avoid creating (or permitting) one of the glowing “bad” examples of corporate culture, described above, and create a culture that promotes individual and TEAM greatness that can scale over time?

At Ursus, especially in and because of our services business context, our leadership team coaches, promotes, and reinforces (deliberately and systemically) employees’ habits across the company that will enable the culture to grow as the company itself grows and scales.  For example:

  • Create, publish and refer back to a documented plan with specific steps towards achievement. 
    • Our growth plans are big, but we distill them all the way down to the little things, the daily if not hourly things required to achieve the larger enterprise goal(s) at the end of any given week, month, quarter or year.  
    • Specific, well-communicated strategies and tactics (our habits) are measured by our Key Performance Indicators (objective metrics) and are the substantive content of our plans (our enterprise-level Vision). 
    • Especially in small/startup companies, every employee should be able to clearly articulate the company’s processes and enterprise-level goals, and understand what his or her role is in achieving those goals. The employee’s personal goals must (in the aggregate) support the enterprise goals. This is a simple performance management concept, but more importantly, without a connection between personal and enterprise goals that individual employees can simply articulate and understand, the odds of company success decrease sharply. 
  • Communicate & Repeat…and then Communicate some more. 
    • To support our Vision, we talk about our tactics and our habits daily. After all, a habit that isn’t repeatable and actually repeated isn’t a habit. We publish metrics that support, celebrate or provide data for course correction daily.  We carve out precious selling and recruiting time to train our team. We use our sourcing partners at LinkedInIndeedZipDice and JobDiva, as well as our clients and contractors who can share and reinforce what works for them when anyone from Ursus, as their partner, interacts with them. 
    • We never stop learning.  Lebron James, arguably the best basketball player on the planet, practices free throws every day!  Even though he’s shot millions of them, it’s his habit to continuously improve. If one change in the placement of his thumb improves his free throw percentage, and wins one critical game, why wouldn’t he want to learn and practice that? Similarly, if perhaps less dramatically, our best recruiters should work on improving their Boolean search strings; our best salespeople must work on their pitches or learn more about emerging technologies. We remind our team to continue to develop, stretch, grow and hone their habits. 
  • Each employee should wake up and say, “today I will be better than I was yesterday,” and know that company leadership will support and nurture that commitment to continuous learning and improvement. How do they know? Leadership communicates it — daily.  Relentless learning is one of many habits that, if a company’s leadership supports it systemically, helps create a culture of good habits that permeates the organization. 
  • Constructive Coaching 
    • A good coach celebrates success and learns from failure; not just what the team did poorly, but how coaching contributed to the failure.  Here in Silicon Valley, the dominant corporate culture celebrates glowing financials and deifies those who preside over overt monetary success. When you’re not “there” (for example, at a certain level of VC funding), if you’re not” making it,” by some Wall Street metric, some (even your peers) might deem you or your company a failure. This is “top-down” thinking, and while any business seeks growth and profits, I think that way of thinking is somewhat backwards (or upside down).  If as company leaders you continuously do the little things right, such as modeling good habits, while you also take care of your people and set them up to succeed, financial success will follow. 
    • Constructive coaching means the opposite of a (too-common) startup culture that cuts throats in the event of any type of failure or mistake.  Does a coach spend more time watching film of victories or defeats? I’d bet on the latter. Failure is not an indictment of who you are as a leader, or of your corporate culture. Failure prompts and enables learning (see above) and can reinforce good habits and a healthy corporate culture. Once you (all of you—leadership and employees) have survived some failures, then from a probability standpoint, you’re (all) more likely to be successful in the future. “Success is not final; Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

Corporate leaders should nurture and model a simple but powerful culture that connects personal, team, and enterprise goals, and rewards the habits that provide the support structure for those goals. These good habits will, over time, enable your company to leverage and overcome temporary failures, or small mistakes (and avoid big ones). But, for each employee, achieving greatness is a grind and a choice, or more accurately, a series of each employee’s choices to do what he or she must rather than what he or she wants. As executives and managers, you create the culture and communicate the Vision that enables each employee to pursue greatness, confident that their leadership supports their efforts.

Your baby is not as cute as you think it is!

Wait, what?  You just closed your Series A round for $13M (the average dollar amount raised in a 2019 Series A round)? That’s fantastic! Congratulations!  And with all due respect, such a fundraising achievement is well worth celebrating, because it IS a big deal.  So, after the press release hits the newswires and social media, enjoy the moment and take your company out for dinner and drinks. 

BUT, later that night or at breakfast the next morning, gather your fellow founders or executive team, take out the bottle labeled “Reality Pills” and urge each to gulp down at least one.  Why should founders and executives do such a thing? 

Well, for starters, it’s always prudent to temper success with humility. And as you present yourself and your company to potential candidates (e.g., your developers, product managers, and engineers), be honest. More specifically, recognize that your newly funded startup immediately will be jockeying to recruit talent amongst hundreds of other, just as well funded, “hot” companies whose ideas will “change the world.” Not to mention the sexy household brand names like Google, Facebook, eBay, Amazon, Microsoft and other companies (disclaimer, many of these companies are Ursus clients), including the 142 newly minted “Unicorns” of 2019, that already have changed the world.  You are competing with all of them too! By all means, try to hire the best of the best, swing for the fences, aim high, shoot the moon (choose your most motivational active metaphor) when you recruit.  But know that your company is one among many choices for candidates in what today is, like it or not, a shallow talent pool with plenty of options.  

So, in order to ensure that your company secures the human resource capacity to execute on the operating plan that convinced your venture partners to fund you (and funded your celebration), the company’s founders and executives must be prepared to compete, negotiate, acquiesce when necessary, and—most importantly–make swift and definitive decisions about which and how many people to hire.  

As the Founder and CEO of Ursus, which as a staffing and services company has placed thousands of contractors and full-time employees in Silicon Valley and across the United States, my advice, for what it’s worth, is this:

  • Define and know through a well-crafted job description what type of employee (or contractor) your company ideally would want to hire, even if it is the elusive “purple squirrel;” but also identify those types of people whom the company needs to hire, now, to continue to execute your operating plan. 
  • Consider hiring contractors, not employees.  
    • Too often, startups with fresh new funding believe they should only hire full-time employees (FTEs). A contractor or contract-to-hire option is a low-risk, relatively less expensive (low to no overhead burden) way for a company and candidate to determine if a long-term relationship is in everyone’s best interests. If a company cannot answer the question of why it should shoulder the risk and expense to hire FTEs who may or may not “match” long-term, when it could “try before it buys” with less permanent hiring, then the latter option poses fewer and less expensive risks. 
  • “We can’t find talent” is not an excuse that any executive wants to present to a Board of Directors.  
    • If a company’s operating plan shows headcount growth, then it must be able to present a viable plan to fill those roles – inside recruiters, personal network, your venture partners, or a professional firm like Ursus are all options. 
  • Don’t settle, but right size or break job functions into pieces.  
    • Too often, startups or early stage companies try to squeeze three jobs into one role, usually in an attempt to reduce costs. Executives and managers should not do this unless they enjoy explaining high and increasing employee churn numbers to the company’s venture partners or Board of Directors.  
  • Trust the market data. 
    • Staffing companies see the same job openings over and over again and know what the market cost for talent is.  If you don’t believe your staffing partners, purchase market research or ask your venture investors to share data with you.  You may not like the price of talent, but if you want to compete (with both the “hot” new and the already-have-changed-the-world companies), your company must budget for the best attainable talent.  
  • Be prepared to act, sell and negotiate. 
    • Time kills all deals. Be decisive about hiring the right candidate. Don’t hesitate or even worse, don’t get cute and prolong the process by adding additional steps or thinking you need to compare a start candidate with two or three others, as if you’re buying a commodity.  If as part of your corporate culture, and as a hiring decision-maker, your company and you aren’t decisive, you will lose the candidate, and lose/waste time repeating the process. Remember, as an executive or manager, you are trying to run your business while you build it. You don’t have time to waste. 
  • Let go a little and don’t hold on so tight. 
    • Every new employee is important to your company’s future but agonizing over each and every hire is counterproductive. That said, hiring the wrong person, especially as an FTE, could be riskier than hiring a contractor or not hiring at all.

After more than 20 years as an executive in Silicon Valley, and having lived through five successful liquidity events, the company I founded (Ursus) is my “baby.” And even though my

1 From: http://hoopthoughts.blogspot.com/2015/06/bo-schembechler-on-why-its-important-to.html

“Yesterday I posted a blog on an amazing article written by Jen Sinkler  on rugby coach Jack Clark.  You can read the post here.  Still, I’m going to repeat a small portion of that blog dealing with Clark talking to Sinkler about something he learned from Bo Schembechler.  For all of us that recruit, it’s a great reminder of the importance of not just recruiting the best players but recruiting the right players — and there’s a big difference:

Hiring Tech Talent. Buying a Home in The Bay Area. Pretty Much The Same Thing.

It was one of the, if not most, iconic lines in the 80’s movie classic, ‘Top Gun’.  It happened while Tom Cruise, as Maverick, and his co-pilot “Goose” were prepping for flight. “I feel the need, the need for speed” applies not only to flying multi-million jet fighters, but to many other disciplines. Two that immediately come to mind: 1) bidding on a house and 2) trying to hire a technical resource in Silicon Valley. So how, you ask, are these disciplines even remotely related to one another? Please, allow me to explain!

Any one attempting to buy a home in the San Francisco Bay Area knows (or will quickly learn) that if you don’t have your proverbial ducks in a row –  loan pre-approval letters, credit reports, references, inspection agencies ready to review properties, and being mentally prepared to present an offer at or above asking price – you are not prepared.  In short, being serious about buying a home in this part of world requires preparation for all possible outcomes, with all required documentation ready to rock when offers are due (because you won’t have any time to think beyond deadlines mandated by sellers).  Oh, and sorry if you need your wife, parents, or best friend to see the house a day or two later, want to ask for contingencies, or you need to “take a day or two to think about it.” If you’re not ready to make the jump to light-speed right then and there, you may as well not bid at all because you’ve already missed out; if you aren’t committed to the insanity of this process and ready to make rapid decisions, renting might be a better option (although that can prove to be just as, if not more, competitive).

I speak from personal experience, having learned all the above the hard way when I set out to purchase my first Bay Area home. I was continually outbid or, when I tried to get cute by presenting contingent offers, would proceed to lose the bid.  It wasn’t until my broker finally sat me down over a cup of coffee and gave me the tough love I needed.  “Dude, when I tell you that you need to move faster, I’m not suggesting that you make reckless decisions, but that you make purposeful decisions.”  Moving quickly, or with speed, does not automatically equal recklessness or irresponsibility. It means having everything lined up to move through the process quickly while being mentally focused and prepared to make decisions.  My hiring managers, all of whom I value, respect and in some cases love, know this; the workforce is more mobile and flexible than ever. Candidates change jobs more regularly, with more employment options like remote working, group hiring and outsourcing. There are more choices now than ever before.

Make no mistake, it’s still a seller’s (read: candidates) market.  The best candidates will still be in demand, as always, and the previously generally accepted four to eight weeks interviewing process is still far too long.  We all need to recognize that the very best candidates count their idle period in days, not weeks.  How do we address this need for speed across IT recruiting?  Three thoughts to consider:

  • Create and clearly communicate your hiring plan and process. Make certain your hiring process is communicated and accepted by internal stakeholders and candidates. Make certain that all participants understand and can comply with defined timelines for interviews, feedback and decisions.
  • Understand, revise, and build consensus in your hiring criteria. Hiring managers are usually given a set of criteria, from the top down, to find talent. Often these requirements are created by Human Resources generalists who are not familiar or versed in your technical lexicon, let alone in the soft skills that are, in many cases, unique and/or demanding, all of which ultimately determine a successful hire. Push back! The job overview is your Technicolor advertisement to the market, so if it’s inaccurate you’ve lost a golden opportunity.  Taking care to build a compelling, thorough- and yes, sexy – job description will go a very long way when locating and hiring top talent; it allows a hiring manager or recruiter to be more selective with candidates they choose to bring in for interviews, accelerating the hiring process and, in turn, securing the best candidates at a much faster rate.
  • Contract To Hire – Test-drive candidates. Contract to Hire (CTH) is common practice for companies to impose what is effectively a paid test-drive or probation period to ensure the new hire is a good fit for the position and works well with the team. This allows companies and teams to gain hands-on experience and work directly with an incumbent.  This technique may seem somewhat unorthodox, but remember that it also allows prospective employees to test-drive your company. You may be looking to hire amazing talent, but candidates are also looking for the perfect company; a company where they will not only feel comfortable, but also excited to be a part of your team, investing their talent and energies to build a long career.  CTH also mitigates risk for all since contractors do not come with the full-time employee burden. If there isn’t a good fit, the contract may be terminated at any time.

As an employer, it’s critically important to understand that every day you haven’t filled a position that solves a business problem, you and your company are losing money. Missing out on the best talent in a competitive market because your rivals are more decisive won’t fly since it’s avoidable (see above)!  Please let me reiterate. I’m not promoting reckless, capricious decisions for the sake of speed.  Without question, a bad hire can cost your business thousands of dollars and set projects back for months. However, flip that scenario and remember that delaying a hiring process or hiring decision can cost you and your business dearly, too.

Management’s Obligation to The Millennial Workforce

year, the Millennial generation represents the largest percentage of the workforce. With each new generation, those of us who came before them are quick to define, judge, and even dismiss those who follow them into the workplace. As a twenty-something entering the workforce in the early nineties, I certainly remember reading about and hearing many of the condescending remarks hurled at me by my Generation X brethren.  I took a defensive posture, vividly recalling conversations with peers who were as committed as I was to proving the “older generations” wrong in their judgment of our work ethic, our identity, and “new” ways of doing things.  As if often the case, history repeats itself.  Now I find myself as one of the older guys trying to make sense of the Millennial generation.

Let’s start with the positives Millennials bring forward.  This generation brings with them a new perception of office life (open workspace versus cubes), work-life (flex schedules and telecommuting versus set hours and mandatory office attendance), and work habits. Regarding the latter, is it rude to multi-task in a meeting or has the millennial mindset evolved to process information more effectively or differently?  The millennial generation blazed the path for some of the awesome, new macro-economic trends that are quickly becoming the norm, most notably the rapid rise of the shared economy à la Uber and Airbnb.  As a card-carrying member of Gen X, I LOVE these changes.  Whether you like it or not, many of these trends will stick around since, by 2030, our workforce will be 75% Millennial.

So, that’s the good stuff. What about negative responses to the Millennial generation?  I hear plenty of folks of my era, as well as those a decade younger (Gen Y) and a decade older (Baby Boomers) bemoan the perception that Millennials lack real work ethic, are entitled, and grew up with the belief that everyone deserves a medal.  These ideals extrapolated into the workplace must mean that everyone deserves, or maybe more accurately, is entitled to higher pay, loftier titles, and bigger chunks of equity and flexibility. In short, Millennials have been labeled a ‘soft generation’ by some.  As a manager, I’ve seen this behavior first-hand more than a few times, especially working with technical candidates looking for contract and full-time employment through Ursus.  You can’t make up some of the requests we’ve received from candidates. To date, my all-time favorite is the candidate who insisted upon being compensated for commuting…and nap time.

My reflexive reaction to this sort of behavior is to pass judgment and move on. “Millennials are too lazy, too entitled, and Vape-smoking, Pokemon-Go playing brats!”  But when I step back and appreciate that, like any new generation, elders almost always consider themselves tougher, stronger, more resourceful save for perhaps The Greatest Generation who fought WWII. The fact is that this newly-minted workforce has had minimal corporate work experience, let alone real-world life experience.  Thus, the obligation to guide, direct and instruct on the values associated with hard work, workplace respect, earning the right to advance, and other key values that apply to all generations falls upon those who came before them.  In other words, managers like us!

How should we respond? Younger workers seemed to be motivated differently than previous generations; there are some work approaches that will surely be different from other generations of employees, but surprisingly, many of these differences might not be as drastic as some might think. Yes, this generation requires understanding, but it doesn’t mean all previous understandings of employee management must be thrown out the window. As the most collaborative and inclusive generation to date, these young adults expect their workplace to embrace the same idealism and values they hold so dear.  Creating an environment that aligns with the participation economy will be employers’ greatest opportunity to create a company where Millennials not only want to work, but seek out as a top professional opportunity to grow his or her career.

Redefine what “manage” means to you and your employee.  Millennials have been managed all their lives. Playdates, sports, music and school activities from early on often drove childhood, with the adults in their lives striving to ensure that their kids’ time and focus were used wisely. Perhaps it’s this prior experience with the concept of management that makes Millennials difficult to wrangle, as this generation often craves opportunities to make their own decisions instead of having them made for them.
So how does a manager respond to this need for independence, in response to a lifetime of conditioning?  In short, we lead Millennials instead of managing them. Gone are the days of micromanaging how employees work, where they work, what they wear, what they can say, who is free to approach leadership in the hierarchy, and mind-numbing communication red tape – i.e. the “Aahh, now, are you going to go ahead and have those TPS reports for us this afternoon?” Research shows that the number one reason Millennials are likely to leave their current job is because of their boss. Creating an environment where Millennial employees feel supported, valued, encouraged, while also receiving direction from leadership leads to increased productivity and valuable relationships over the long term.

Millennials are looking for leaders, which translates into leading companies as well as leading managers. According to a recent Deloitte study on managers, millennials place greater loyalty in managers who focus on employee well-being, growth, and development, instead of those who control the work experience of each employee. These respondents believe that “an organization’s treatment of its employees is the most important consideration when deciding if (the organization) is a leader.”  Simply put, Millennials are looking for leaders who care about people. The first take away on managing Millennials in the workplace is to stop trying to manage them, and just learn how to lead them.  My suggestions is to resist the sometimes overwhelming urge to judge or dismiss, looking at your side of the street first. Then, take the responsibility of what it means to be a manager and just lead. Impacts will be felt in the workforce and society at large.

Software Defined Infrastructure Adoption- It’s All All About the People

(San Francisco) – Compliments of our partners at Silver-Peak, I attended the first West Coast edition of the Open Networking User Group (ONUG), held at Intuit HQ in Mountain View. Well done @nicklippis and his team for putting together yet another quality event. After two days of panel discussions, case study showcases, and speaking to various vendors and clients on the show floor, I continued to hear the same lament from attendees; why adoption of new technologies has taken longer than the typical technology adoption curve. The same anecdotal stories that I remember hearing when I first joined Embrane to head their global field operations effort three years ago were mostly alive and well. Of these, my favorite: “You can’t expect a network engineer who has lived in a CLI world for decades to all of sudden know how to or want to write code.”

And why is that? Marcia Savage wrote a great piece this week (‘The Bumpy Road to Software Infrastructure’) citing numerous industry thought leaders, including a few clients, such as Jim Younan at UBS, Joe Ferrell, CTO at GE, Lane Patterson at Yahoo, and Pablo Espinoza, Director of Engineering at Intuit. They all cited the need for a “culture and mindset shift” within a given IT organization. Seems obvious, right? But who really owns this mandate / responsibility within an organization, or, better yet, within the greater industry? To borrow from one of my favorite mentors: “Whose self-worth and compensation are tied to seeing this project succeed?”

Answer: the responsibility and onus for shift change unequivocally lies with companies adopting the technology and/or the companies selling it to them. But, it also goes beyond buyer and seller, to the broader IT community. We simply can’t afford to wait for the next generation of technical talent to enter the workforce. Just because the existing talent base has trouble spelling API and remembers the days when memory, storage and computers cost hundreds of dollars, not pennies, doesn’t mean that they can’t evolve or adapt. Similarly, not every network engineer is privileged to be working on the SDN POC or attend working group sessions at ONUG. Where do these folks go for help?

And that was my ONUG epiphany. I’m almost embarrassed by it now, as it seems so obvious to me that Ursus, as an IT Staffing and Solutions provider, not only has 1) an obligation to the greater good of the industry (corny but still true), but also 2) an enormous opportunity to lead from the front with sponsored training, career development and guidance, helping our candidates successfully make this critical shift change. In fact, we’re already doing this; we see hiring and project trends at a broader scale than any candidate possibly could, so the team shares this information while providing guidance and resources beyond their own companies’ abilities, helping them navigate their way through this evolutionary period. We hear and answer these questions daily: “How do my current skill sets and work history translate, given new technologies? What steps should I take at my current or new company to strategically map my career path, ending up where I want to be? What companies are aggressively pursuing next generation vendors and are also committed to investment in continuing education and training? Fortunately, answering these questions for candidates and hiring managers is the cornerstone of the Ursus brand experience. .

Look for Ursus updates as we work to accelerate this market evolution. Bottom line, we’re in the people business and so we see it as our responsibility – as well as a great opportunity and good for all players in the market – to contribute our energy, dedication and enthusiasm to this culture + mindset shift. We can absolutely do more. I’m in. Are you?

Negotiating with Cockroaches and Unicorns

(San Francisco) – The last few years were all about the Unicorns; startup technology companies that had a reached a billion dollar or more “valuation.” Yes, I’m using quotation marks as I know I’m one of many who question the generally accepted “valuation” system. A system that values a company at $1B or more one month and then, but a few months later, that same company files for bankruptcy warrants skepticism. But I digress. I’m a huge fan of the Unicorn movement. Fast-paced growth is great for business, and it presents a seller’s market for candidates. There’s no better case study to support how great the market has been than Haseeb Qureshi .

If you’ve not heard of Haseeb, he is the former professional poker player turned app developer who, after completing a three-month intensive coding course, managed to negotiate a quarter million-dollar compensation package with a leading Unicorn. Well done, Haseeb! I suppose congratulations are also in order for the hiring manager at AirBNB who deemed this hire important enough to justify the spend. Trust me, I get it. I understand it. Unicorn companies were – and many still are – in an arms race for top talent. The competition for quality developers (“A” and “B” talent remember?) is fierce and the directive from investors has been to hire for hyper-growth. A quality candidate with decent negotiating skills has been commanding, and in some cases demanding, top dollar. It’s been frothy for a while, but I believe market conditions are shifting to a place where these types of scenarios will occur with less frequency, if at all.

Enter the age of the Cockroach! A Cockroach (credit to Flickr founder Caterina Fake who most recently referenced or resurrected this term in a September 2015 blog post) is what the pundits refer to as a company that builds slowly and steadily from inception, maintaining a watchful eye on revenue, profit and most importantly spending to ensure it can weather any future market conditions. The Cockroach movement is also bringing about significant shifts / changes in the hiring process, forcing hiring manager and candidate to recalibrate.

Scru·ti·ny ˈskro͞otnē/ noun critical observation or examination

In the Cockroach Age, a new level of scrutiny now applies to hiring manager and candidate alike. As a result, the hiring process slows down a bit. Hiring managers still must move quickly, but not hastily. This deeper examination ensures the candidate is not only fully vetted for their skill sets, but has the intangibles to operate in an environment where employees are expected to be cognizant of operational discipline, market conditions and their place within the company, supporting broader goals.

The candidate must respond to this level of scrutiny (side note: this is the way companies and candidates should always strive to vet one another. Sadly, and to one or both parties’ detriment, they often don’t; by taking the time to prepare for the interview process and/or doing the appropriate research. If a candidate is truly serious about an opportunity, then, at a minimum, he or she should walk into an interview with a deeper understanding of the company’s product set, history, competitors, executives and the hiring manager(s) they will be meeting. They should be able to articulate, and often demonstrate, their skills, prior work experience, and how they translate to the position in question. Anything less than this is completely unacceptable. If you, as a candidate, aren’t willing to invest that level of effort, you shouldn’t bother applying for the position; you waste your time and worst, you waste others’ time. Assisting our candidates with in-depth interview preparation is where my Ursus team shines, devoting considerable time and effort working one-on-one with candidates. In some cases, this extra effort often determines whether or not we will continue working with a candidate, presenting him or her to a hiring manager; if we don’t sense a deeper commitment or an elevated ability post coaching, the odds that the candidate will be able to so for a discerning hiring manager are slim at best.

Ursus Insight: Layoffs and Rehires

It’s happening now and the trend will continue as the correction cycle continues. Unicorns TwitterZenefits and Groupon are all recent examples of Unicorn carnage that’s occurred within the last six months. Obviously, this is about spending reduction but the underlying drivers behind the layoffs are two-fold. In the Unicorn-Age companies that hire at an aggressive pace typically overstaff and even worse, create jobs that may or may not be core to the business. When you’re on a hiring spree, you don’t think twice about saying ‘yes’ to “wouldn’t it be nice if we had (fill in the blank here) to do this job?” Fast forward to the Cockroach-Age. These same hiring managers, now forced to manage to budget look to trim fat first and there’s no quicker way to reduce burn than to reduce headcount.

Reduction in staff is normal in any business cycle, but be cautious. All too often when companies are reducing staff, they throw out the proverbial ‘baby with the bathwater.’ Definitely cut the fat but if there are hard decisions to be made regarding whether or not mission critical / key personnel can still remain with the company, there are options. Ursus specializes in the outsourcing of contractors to our Portfolio Companies. The end result is a reduction in spend as the burden of taxes and benefits shifts from the client to us, with a modest mark-up while still being significantly less than the cost of full-time employees. This represents an opportunity for the hiring manager to effectively renegotiate or, better yet, restructure payment structures with his or her employees, often at a similar pay rate but with reduced impact on the company bottom line. Employees win. Manager wins. Everyone moves into their happy place and The Grind continues. The Cockroach age might not be so bad after all!

The Fallacy of the all “A” Player Team

(San Francisco) – NBA Playoff Basketball. It’s that time of year and the Golden State Warriors, darlings of the Bay Area, are favored to repeat as world champions. It’s no surprise that, regardless of who you talk to, the die-hard basketball aficionado the or the casual fan who likes to follow a winner, the talk usually starts and focuses on the superstars; Steph CurryDraymond Green and Klay Thompson. They are the “A” players and rightfully deserving of the spotlight. But any good coach – or even the stars themselves – will be quick to point out that basketball is a team game, and without the role players, i.e. second team, “B” team players, (call them what you want), there is no way they could ever compete for a championship.

History can point to countless examples where an attempt to assemble a team entirely of superstars failed. It may look good on paper, but rarely in practice. Why is that? As is always the case, people are complicated. Groups of people more so. But the primary answer is that teams of people, whether a basketball team or company, need leaders and followers, superstars and roll players. An all “A” team assembly more often than not leads to conflict, ego-clash and a constant fight for dominance. There are so many adages that apply to this concept: “There is only one ball to shoot.” “You can’t have too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”, and so on.

This applies to sports and to business. As an IT Staffing and Services firm, we hear the same proclamation every day, “I only want to hire ‘A’ talent.” This narrow hiring requirement results in a lack of team diversity in technical, cultural and performance background. Is it really productive, let alone even realistic, for every company to have only “A” players? Of course not! There isn’t enough “A” talent available and the best of the bunch typically want to only work for those companies with the most caché, upside, comp and benefits.   This is especially true in the Bay Area where the competition for top talent is fierce!

Like or don’t like? Thumbs up or down? “A” player or not? We’ve been conditioned to become a binary decision making culture. The middle ground, and the talent that lives there, seems to no longer be viable and that’s a problem. I’ve read plenty of articles that proclaim a “B” player “Does some things well, but not fully self-sufficient, and not consistently strong while an ‘A’ player is Fully self-sufficient and takes initiative that positively impacts the company.” I would challenge that this “B” player definition needs revision. While a “B” worker may not have dramatic impact on the company, they absolutely are capable of significant contribution as well as potential to evolve into “A” player talent. The work force is replete with bright, hungry, motivated individuals who may not necessarily have come from best pedigree; socio-economic situation, best college or best, previous work environment. But when placed in the right job environment with strong and supportive management, career development and interaction with top “A” talent, “B” players will rise to the occasion. And as their career development happens, they will absolutely contribute in a meaningful, dramatic way.

Imagine as a manager you only have the option to assign “A” players to a project or deal. Who gets assigned to what without alienating the rest of the team? For example: the VP of engineering has deemed that “Project X” is the most important in the entire company and she only wants “A” players to work on said project. What if her entire team is comprised of “A” players? Someone gets left out, right? Certainly, there are important, maybe not as important, but important projects that will benefit the company, but if everyone believes they are an “A” guy or gal and then they arent’ assigned to “Project X”, what results? Hello resentment, infighting and – worst of all – attrition!

Let me be clear. I understand why hiring managers strive for an all “A” player team. Why wouldn’t you always want “the best”? As the CEO of Ursus, I want the best talent for my company, too. But, I also realize there are many different roles and skill sets required to build a team that works well as a unit. We try to impress the same message upon our clients. Aim high (Steph Curry, Draymond Green) but also recognize that the role player, the “B” player, the “not necessarily the top producer but rock solid contributor that pulls significant cycles that yield meaningful results” (Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli) are critical to the overall success of your team and your company.

Recruiting: Powerfully Connecting Online and Offline Communities

Timing. It’s one of the most important variables when matching a talented IT candidate to the best job opening. When the proverbial planets align, and the right candidate and right job opening are both available, how do you ensure having the right tools to reach them and for them to reach us?”

URSUS leverages several online and social media platforms, including strategic job posting services, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other online communities where we position and promote our latest job opportunities; we’re constantly reviewing, culling and organizing candidate resumes and updates to ensure we’re in touch and ready to move when the right moment comes. But with the myriad of job information available to candidates, especially in an IT market where talent might seem to have more leverage than hiring managers, (although the pendulum is shifting. Watch this space for future comment), how do you really cut through the noise?

As important as automated and self-service tools may be, URSUS believes there’s no better way to counter digital signal to noise than by the personal, real-world touch. It could be as simple as an extra phone call or meeting for coffee or a drink. Or, better yet, our weekly or monthly event produced by us and/or our partners, allowing us to directly interact with candidates. The latter, real-world platform is where we shine, providing real value in the form of content, (in the form of best practices or trends for candidates and hiring managers), contract brokering, and keeping things real beyond electronic mediums. Of course, it’s a challenge to execute these events at scale, but the investment is worthwhile for our customers, and most importantly, for our candidates.

Since our inception last summer, URSUS has hosted informal, monthly breakfasts for our candidates, hiring managers and partners. No sales pitches, no formal agenda, just an opportunity to come together, catch up, compare notes and touch base. Offline, human interaction within a community. This month, we’ve expanded the invitation to our new friends at WeWork. As new members, we’re taking the opportunity to get to know our new neighbors a bit better and introduce them to the powerful, real-world community we bring with us. We hope you’ll join us for ‘brunch’ at WeWork Transbay on Thursday April 7th. More information about the event here or email us at [email protected] for more information. See you then!

Join URSUS on LinkedIn

Follow URSUS on Twitter

Follow URSUS on Facebook

A New Approach to IT Staffing

In a recent Staffing Industry Analysts’ Buyer Survey  buyers who purchased IT Staffing services were asked to name the most important criteria when selecting a staffing firm.  Half of respondents said “Worker Quality” was the most important criteria when selecting a firm. When the question was posed a bit differently and buyers were asked to name the top three criteria.  Again, 78% of respondents cited “Worker Quality” as one of the top three things look for when working with a staffing firm.

The article covering this survey goes on to explore the disconnect between IT Staffing firms marketing efforts and mapping to the needs of the buyer.  Only 18% speak to Worker Quality in their marketing materials.  But is that the real take away from a survey like this or does the issue go deeper?  Frankly, I think the issue hits at a major issue in the industry itself that, as a hiring manager for fifteen years, always drove me nuts!  How you find, match and deliver candidates to hiring managers, in other words your process, is just as important as the end result. In other words, if your process stinks your worker quality will suffer as a result. Maybe not in the short term, but if you want to develop a long-term relationship with both client and candidate the “simple things” are imperative:

  • Listening to client needs
  • Taking the time develop, collaboratively with your client, accurate and detailed job specifications
  • Communicating! Return phone calls, return emails, and proactively update the client on status- good news and not as good news. Don’t hide behind email!!

These are just a few examples. Seems like pretty common sense stuff right? Yet so many staffing firms take the basics for granted especially in a bull market where “unicorns” are in vogue and startups want to show you their office space before their product or service.

Ok, so let’s say your firm executes on the basics listed above. Then what? What makes your firm different than the rest?  Well, we at Ursus believe that the next generation workforce, the millennials, want to engage differently. They want to interact, not just with staffing firm and the clients they represent, but each other….to compare notes and best practices, to refer and share and be rewarded for referring and sharing, to create and share their own content, be counted and measured against their peer groups.  A richer, more interactive experience is expected whether you are playing a game on your phone or searching for your next career move.

Enter Ursus IT Staffing, a next generation staffing firm built on tried and true operational discipline PLUS the best tools, services and communication vehicles that the next generation workforce deems as status quo in any user experience.

What do you think? Let us know @ursusinc