MRG In Northern Miner: Economic Turmoil, A Headhunters’ Perspective

The Northern Miner, Monday, October 13, 2008

Commentary: Economic turmoil: a headhunter’s perspective

By Andrew Pollard

Special To The Northern Miner

As an executive recruiter within the mining industry, I have experienced a very troubling phenomenon over the last four months or so: my phone has been ringing off the hook.

Who’s calling, you ask? Well, if you are at the helm of a resource company, it’s a relatively safe bet that one of your employees is on the other end.

With investment in the sector down markedly from 2007 (albeit a record year), many junior and mid-sized resource companies have more than begun to feel the pinch. Some have scaled back exploration programs, others have deferred implementing new directives or sold off assets, and some extremely hard-hit companies have taken the drastic measure of cutting their overhead by letting some key employees go.

There are, however, a few who have weathered these turbulent times historically and are able to use the current climate to their advantage. Good or bad economy, these employers realize that the difference between making things happen in the marketplace and fading into oblivion is talent.

So they focus their efforts on maintaining their core group of leaders and, in some cases, bolstering their team by cherry picking the high-calibre people that are now readily available and very receptive to offers.

What can you do to ensure your company will weather the current storm?

  • The best way is with the willing engagement of a focused, fired-up, and capably led team. Keep them stimulated. Avoid the tactics so often invoked during a slowdown that are guaranteed to make your people power back a notch or two. That includes: knee-jerk layoffs (unless survival is truly at stake); poorly conceived pay cuts (especially incentive pay); and petty cutbacks. When you are forced to make painful cuts, remember that officers bleed first.
  • Don’t allow fear to cause your workforce to disengage. Being judicious about expenses and budgets is one thing, but injecting an added dose of fear into the workplace is something completely different. The degree to which employees are concerned about losing their jobs varies inversely with the degree to which they are concerned with doing their jobs, and taking care of the task at hand. And they’ll be looking at management for telltale signs of fear and hope.
  • Keep a focus on recruiting. It’s no accident that the companies with the best people tend to thrive. Those that realize there is always a talent shortage — regardless of their current financial situation — find or make a way to attract the best and brightest. You may find that candidates are more open to contract work, or willing to negotiate pay in return for security. They’re out there. They’re receptive. Be creative and go find them.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk candidly with your people about how the company is doing. Don’t delegate this; this is the CEO’s discussion to have. What distracts people more than anything else is not knowing what is going on. Every minute your folks spend wondering or worrying is a minute that their task at hand is being ignored.

As is often the case, fear has a way of perpetuating itself. Your employees read the newspapers and watch TV, and though there may be absolutely no cause for concern at your company, many get tricked into believing the sky is falling.

Regardless of the state you find your company in now, it can always get worse, with those whom you have come to rely on most leaving to seek greener pastures. By being open, quelling concerns before they arise and displaying how much you value the contribution of your employees, you stand to significantly reduce the risks of this happening.

Of course, this is just a suggestion, as I relish having those people, who at one time wouldn’t take my call, now actively coming to me — and so do my clients.

–Andrew Pollard is president of The Mining Recruitment Group, a Vancouver-based boutique executive search firm focused on the unique needs of the mining industry.

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