Friday, December 5, 2008

The 5 Ps of Sourcing

By : Maureen Sharib

Plan Prepare Penetrate Persevere Prosper (The Five Ps)

The following is a condensation of the former lesson (Sun Tzu’s Art of War) As I was doing the Art of War lessons (last), it occurred to me that there were some points Sun Tzu kept repeating. All in all, Sun Tzu recommends strategic methods of winning that rarely required actual warfare. Organization, deception and the use of spies were his main tools - but if it came to war, he used his detailed insight on its methods and strategies to control success. He numbers five methods that I’ve renamed for use in our industry.

Measurement I call Plan
Estimation of Quantity I call Prepare
Calculation I call Penetrate
Balancing of Chances I call Persevere
Victory I call Prosper

The first of the Five Ps is Plan.

It’s in laying good solid plans for any search that we’re most likely to achieve success. Have a PLAN that you implement each and every time you do a search. A solid foundation assures solid results. Controlling a job search can be handled as follows: divide it into organizational parts and then move through it in concentrated waves of activity. Each set of activities should have its own organization. It’s generally not productive to skip any one part – set a routine that works for you and for the most part, stick to it! Our efforts should blend - our internet efforts (direct tactics) must be blended with our own personal skill-sets (indirect tactics) to effect success. Lingering too long on the first activity (just how many/names off that/hours in that phone-bank/do you need to get into a company, anyway?) and hesitating to get on the phone will prevent you from turning the information you’ve gleaned into real-life results. Lose the mike-fright. If you get scared, just hang up!

Organization is like a circle, each activity blending into the next. It takes many different activities to complete the circle and each activity must be engaged forcefully and decisively. What do I mean?
Let’s take the information checking stage. This is really the stage where our direct efforts: the internet searching, the company perusal, the customer’s discussion/instructions - meet the indirect methods: our own skill-sets on the telephone/our people skills/our sourcing arts - and results begin to emerge from the ether. It’s when the crossbow, drawn, is released. It’s important, at this stage, to act quickly and completely. When, as one talented sourcer put it recently, you find “blood in the water”, this waft should compel you to “strike hard”. Follow those whiffs of information until the trail runs cold –THEN you can say you’ve done all that can be done on each target.

There are companies that cannot be besieged, nor maybe should be besieged. These include situations that are extremely difficult to penetrate and would require inordinate amounts of time and energy. Time and energy are your treasure. Does our pride trip our indomitable egos in such a way that we set ourselves up for failure? Do we fail to recognize our own Achilles heels? Do we set out to prove to someone (ourselves?) that we are unconquerable? Rarely have I attempted a job where every single target was penetrated. We must learn to comply with the natural terrain if we are to succeed, and we must learn to extend a certain gentleness towards ourselves (don’t forget, also to others!) in our approach.

On another track, companies that also maybe should not be targeted may include companies that are your own clients, or companies that have strategic alliances with the customer. In several points throughout his discourse, Sun Tzu remarks that “the general receives his commands from the sovereign” but in this point he remarks, pointedly, “there are…commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.” Hmmm…interesting. I think also there are certain commands which should not be obeyed.

So, what do I do at this stage, you ask? The following format is what I do as a Names Sourcer.

1. Listen to what the customer is asking of you. Ask questions if you don’t understand. (I ask a lot of questions!) Study the request. Remove the abbreviations – ask to speak to the department manager who needs the hire. Research the position. The last question I ask is “What haven’t I asked I should have asked?”

2. Set the job up. If it’s a new customer, I create a folder for the Customer. I then set it up in Word, at the top I put the Job Number (my internal tracking #), the Job Title, the Job Description, the Customer contact/billing information. I then put in the target companies. I encourage the customer to supply me with a list of companies they’d like to see people from. I then proceed to Hoover’s from whence I get each companies vital statistics Name Phone Number, Rank, etc. I put everything in they have to offer:
Company Name
Sales Volume (all that stuff Hoover’s gives you)
Description of Company
Executives – yes I put them in. It’s my first hint of what the internal structure is/what their titles may be/what their divisions (if any) may be called, etc.
Can’t be too rich or thin? Well, you can’t have too much Information…

3. Look in your old research for names into the target companies. You may have “visited” with them before – I hope you kept records! My fingers are attached to my keyboard when the telephone is at my ear: I had to have a pen surgically removed from my hand from a previous business life before I used a keyboard ; ) Habits ARE hard things to break! If you don’t have any names to get in – find some! In fact, do your google thing at this point. You may even find someone at the company holding the title you’re after! Remember to use quotes if you want more precise hits: “Target Company” “Software Engineer”
“Target Company” Engineer “area code and prefix” for the location you want them out of. HINT: Try area code first – many companies use several prefixes in their telephone directories. Sometimes less is more.
Anyway, before you know it, you’ll be doing it!

The second of the Five Ps is Prepare.

In this phase we begin to “act”. Always remember, use what they offer you - those loose lips, those internet postings and let’s not forget those yawning telephone directories! You’re moving on the offense in this process - we can talk ‘til we’re blue-in-the-face, but until we actually “walk the talk”, we’ll never know, will we?

Don’t sell yourself short. Be aware of the value you bring to your jobs. Many projects start in your hands and some (much?) of the company’s success depends on the information you bring back from the warring fields. Although what we do can be done with a minimum of financial outlay, there are other costs associated that cannot be measured in financial terms. Spend a day (and I’m talking 12-15 hrs!) in pursuit on the internet/telephone and you tell me it’s not exhausting!

I’ve found that my customers are as interested in the “information tidbits” I pick up along the way while doing my job as they are in the names and titles I provide. Sometimes these signals translate into the health of a company: “Oh everyone’s leaving around here – let me look in the directory to see if he’s still here”, “*big sigh* Just a minute…”. On the other end of this spectrum: “Sure! I just talked to him!” conveys a couple things: Enthusiasm at the company and the Hallelujah moment (for me) that I’m close to my target! Listen for these clues and be prepared to offer them to the customer in their correct context: translating them after a brief visit can be hazardous!

In sourcing and research, we cannot succeed unless we understand the nature of our targets. It’s important we try to wrap our minds around theirs, we need to understand their culture, their thinking, their challenges, their day-to-day events. If we can “be” them, we can get them. Regarding this, Sun Tzu tells us to “pay attention to local guides” to turn natural advantage to our accounts.

If you study your target, you’ll discover the weaker parts and learn from the stronger ones. The internet seems to have done a very nice job of rousing information on our targets for us - an example of the "enemy" revealing himself. Craft a carefully executed plan and then act upon it. Don’ hesitate – proceed with confidence.
"Be not prepared to recognize advantage and disadvantage and surely you will fail."
What does this mean?
In your planning and preparation (the organization/early act stages) account for the fact that the “enemy” may “push back”. What are you going to do when this happens? What strategies have you planned that will allow you to change direction when you hit head-winds? What preparations have you done that allow you to think around your target’s defensive tactics? What knowledge about your target have you uncovered in your research that you can use to your advantage? Anticipating the target’s reactions and having a plan (the best defense is a good offense!) will make your own position unassailable.
So not only are you moving on the offense in this phase, you need to have a defense plan in mind.

We’re wise to sort out the “accessible ground” in our work – this is the more easily gained and once occupied, most easily held. The other grounds may be attained; however, they’re more difficult to reach and to defend. Do the easier companies first, and what I mean is this: It’s like taking a test – if you don’t know the answer to one question, move onto the next. Answers have a way of revealing themselves (remember those exams in college?) when you act like this. It may be, as you move on and through other companies that are not so hard to penetrate, and you’re doing research on them, you may just stumble across a nugget that will open the doors in some of the companies you’ve skipped. It works every time for me.

Knowledge is the absolute key to success. It’s not wise to proceed without knowing our own natures, the natures of our foes and the advantages and disadvantages the terrain offers. In fact according to Sun Tzu, advancing with none of this knowledge will result in defeat, advancing with only some is likely to result in defeat, advancing with all of them will result in victory.

You ready to act?

The third Of the Five Ps is Penetrate.

Speed presides over strategy. Once started, move quickly to accomplish your goals. Your client/employer/customer’s resources will become strained if you dilly-dally. You’ll become strained. We've all been there - that point when a job is so tough/has dragged on too long, we dread turning to it.

The best attack is swift. Prepare yourself for that first call, its’ potential is boundless. When you hit a dead-end with one call, make another quickly. Rapid movement has the most potential for success. If one gatekeeper turns me away, I try another (knowing there are banks of them answering phones!). Again, and again and again until I’ve exhausted them – then I start calling INTO the company, quickly, one call after another, until I have what I need. Hit them hard, hit them fast.

Never under-estimate the skills of the Gatekeeper!
Go where that Gatekeeper suggests you go. Do what she tells you to do. Do not resist her/simply “0” back to her when you hit that inevitable Voice-Mail and ever-so-subtly “complain” to her that “Well, that didn’t work – what next?” ‘til you have her working to help you. The more time she “invests” in you, the more likely it is she will come to view her success as yours.

Try to grasp human nature when dealing with the Gatekeeper (and all others):
“Those who are surrounded will resist.” Don’t push too hard!
“Those who can neither gain nor stop will fight.” Always give them an out! If they feel embattled, they’ll resist your efforts.
“Those who are beyond their limit will obey.” This is the point where the Gatekeeper does as you ask.

Know when to fold, when to hold.. Usually, it’s best to “go with the flow”; we’ve discussed one act of Gatekeeper acquiescence above – but equally important is to know when to press. I tell people sourcing is not a science (though applying the points in these chapters comes as close as we can get to one) but an art form. There are times to press, (and press quickly!) and that comes when we’ve gained SOME admittance. So move forward when you sense an advantage; in doing so you will turn more advantages into gain.

In sourcing, there are some times and dates that are better than others.
If information is hard to glean in the a.m., call at noon when the Gatekeeper’s likely to be away and someone else (usually not well-trained in her rebuttal techniques) is covering for her.

Calling in the 11:30-2 timeframe is less productive overall than calling 8-11 or 2-5.

Calling after lunch can be both risky and fraught with promise – they can be sleepy and grumpy or sleepy and off-guard. Either way they’re usually sleepy so hone in on this.

Calling the CEO’s Executive Assistant is very likely to get you information because she knows everything (including the secrets)! Nobody’s going to fire her for spilling the beans – where would he be without her, anyway? She’s not afraid of losing her job and is usually so busy she’ll direct you just to get rid of you.
Anybody complaining to her about her actions is usually about as effective as a fly presenting itself to be swatted.
“Knowing the boss’s girlfriend is called job security.” – Anon.

Calling on Monday or Fridays is generally less productive than calling on Tuesday – Thursday.

Calling at 4:45 can be the same – either they’re harried and looking forward to getting out of there and will direct you to where you want to go just to get rid of you OR they may be tired and fed-up with requests like yours coming at them all day. I like the 7-9a.m time slot where you can reach decision makers who are compelled by their natures to pick up the phone/I also like calling past 5 for the same reason/calling on holidays can be productive because people are generally less-guarded at these times. Christmas Eve parties are great! I could go on and on and on but what it all boils down to is a study of human nature. If you can put yourself in the shoes at the other end of that phone you’ll do just fine.

I have a customer who calls me “Miss Confusion”. It’s not because I’m disorganized (uhhh…looking guiltily, furtively around at my desk…) but because at times I feign disorder and confusion. Remember Columbo? “Confusion” yields results. It’s also called the “bumbling fool” approach, and I’d say that’s a pretty good description. I commonly ASK for HELP of people, in my most plaintive and pitiful tones. I readily admit I know nothing and need their assistance. I’ve been known to beg for organizational guidance. Make disorder, fear and weakness work for you. I’m reminded also (for some reason here) by something St. Francis said: "Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength." It all fits together somehow.

On acting rather than re-acting in situations: The fact of the matter is that this takes a highly-evolved intellect, a purging of one’s ego and a massive amount of study and application. How many of us are willing to practice these disciplines? We should know well our own limitations and strengths.

One of Sun Tzu’s points say:
“Subtle and insubstantial, the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible. Thus he is master of his enemy's fate." This is really what our work is about - learning to be invisible and master of our own fates as well. It reminds me how the American Indian traveled through this land of “ours”, like a bird through air, like a fish through water, leaving nothing behind but a shimmer/a slight hint that he was ever there.

Dissimulation/web definition: deceiving See Also: bluff, cheat, cheating, chicanery, delusion, double-dealing, duplicity, fakery, falsification, feigning, four flush, guile, head game, illusion, impersonation, imposture, indirection, misrepresentation, obscurantism, pretence, pretending, pretense, shenanigan, simulation, trickery, wile - Wow, that’s a lot of synonyms! Sun Tzu wrote this military treaty, it’s said, to get noticed and hired by royalty. It worked. Applications of his treatise also worked in the battles he engaged in. It is said he was always victorious. I am not endorsing the use of any of these definitions; they are offered for enlightenment.

Deviation/ONE web definition: the difference between an observed value and the expected value of a variable or function. Herein lies a big clue. People observe, interpret, report things differently. It’s in directing a person’s observations we achieve success. We can’t direct someone else until we understand their world, and we can’t understand their world unless we study it. The wonder of organization, thought and planning! Organize your thought processes, your methods and techniques. Once these things are in place, campaign swiftly and completely to achieve your goals.

“The person who can capture and hold attention is the person who can effectively influence human behavior.” ~ H.A. Overstreet, Influencing Human Behavior

It’s important to repeat: do the unexpected and pursue indirect approaches, using your talents of perception and imagination.
Here’s a little funny on perception:
A woman was shopping at her local supermarket where she selected: a half-gallon of 2% milk, a carton of eggs, a quart of orange juice, a head of romaine lettuce, a 2 lb. can of coffee, and a 1 lb. package of bacon.
As she was unloading her items on the conveyor belt to check out, a drunk standing behind her watched as she placed the items in front of the cashier.
While the cashier was ringing up her purchases, the drunk calmly stated, "You must be single."
The woman was a bit startled by this proclamation, but she was intrigued by the derelict's intuition, since she was indeed single. She looked at her six items on the belt and saw nothing particularly unusual about her selections that could have tipped off the drunk to her marital status.
Curiosity getting the better of her, she said "Well, you know what, you're absolutely correct. But how on earth did you know that?"
The drunk replied, "Cause! You're ugly."

It’s all in the perception of things.

Along the same path, be aware that your attempts at subtlety can backfire! The kidder can get kidded! Always use your gut when obtaining information – if it feels “funny” check it again. Measure twice, cut once! If you learn to sense false “incoming” (and you can if you’re in tune with your senses) you’ll avoid the embarrassing situation that accompanies conveying poor information to your client. We must be careful with the information we obtain - without the aid of our own discerning natures we may be fooled. This is another reason why, when I say “follow your gut”, I mean just that. Always pay attention to what your instincts tell you.

Okay, it’s getting a lot more difficult, isn’t it?

The fourth of the Five Ps is Persevere.

Warning: This may be the hardest one of all.

You’ve heard the adage. “When the going gets tough the tough get going”?
Well, it applies nowhere better than here! Admittedly, this is a tremendous, tough, time-consuming, tempestuous, and, at times tortuous business (the 5 T’s?). ;)

But man, is it fun! Is it ever WAY FUN! Every job is a new adventure, a new learning experience, a new opportunity to hone our skills. I tell my sourcers, “The names don’t come at the beginning of the job, silly! They come at the end!” And wow do they pour in at the end (or as you come closer to the end)! If you’ve done your steps properly, and if the search is not truly “that needle in a haystack” (and Sourcers – learn to recognize THAT incoming!) the names on a job will gather with momentum the further you get into it.

In fact, by the time you finish a 100 name job that felt impossible when you started, you should be wishing the job could go on forever. I say this because by this time, if you’ve completed your research properly and made your foraging calls correctly, the targets should be spitting out names at you. “And how is this?”
you ask.

It’s because you persevered.

Notice I said, “If you’ve completed your steps properly… if you’ve done your research properly and made your foraging calls correctly…” the targets should be heaving names. This is why it’s so important to follow the plan you prepared as a first step in this process, prepared your job as the second step, and penetrated in the third step… But the most important step (to me) is this fourth one! If you quit, after you’ve done all that, well, then, sorry to say it, you’re just a quitter! And quitters don’t win, they don’t go onto the next step: Prosper.

You want to be a quitter? I didn’t think so.

There are a few hints Sun Tzu offers up on this subject. The more I reflect on his writings the more I’m convinced he, too, touched lightly on the really important stuff, in an act of deflection.

Beware fatigue, and most of all, a jaded attitude. That’s why it’s important to pace ourselves, a hard thing to do when you smell success. (Oh! it's just around the bend! Just one more call!) The funny thing is, it very well can be but learn to work within your physical capabilities. Granted, we have to extend ourselves while on the chase, but also we need to rest in-between. Get some exercise . Get a routine – you’ll have more stamina and energy for the fight. View it as a necessary component of your work-day.

Sun Tzu blames “…a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame…” as one of the causes of failure in campaigning. Hmmm…war is not for the faint-of-heart, and neither is our work. I think of those who spout opinions regarding what the “right” and “wrong” techniques of sourcing are, may be inflicted with this “delicacy of honor”. But then again, maybe they are minding Sun Tzu’s advice in his eighth chapter, Variation in Tactics: “Recklessness, which leads to destruction…” – who knows? Each of us must find our own “moral compass” on these issues. But one thing I feel strongly about: it’s important to guard against that irresistible temptation inherent in our natures to judge one another. Pride can be a dangerous thing. It has "undone" many before us.

Many of Sun Tzu’s comments counsel us not to struggle in our attempts, but rather to preserve our resources for situations that are advantageous to us, and he tells us how to recognize those situations by observing human character. Look for high reward/low risk situations – to do less than this will exhaust our own resources and leave us ill-prepared to seize advantage when it does appear. And it does appear…

The way in which I sometimes approach a difficult job/one which I have trepidation about starting: I immerse myself in it completely, I invest a lot of time preparing, and then I get busy! I get on the phone, (I put myself in harm’s way) and I tell myself there’s no going back now! Once started, a barreling train is hard to stop. After I have that much time invested, I’m going to make sure I get paid!

The fifth of the Five Ps is Prosper

Why they pay us: When you peel back the layers and layers of investment a company makes, it’s a false economy to begrudge payment to a few key personnel whose artful procurement of information can underscore the security of a company’s investment; in fact, not doing so can endanger the actual preservation of the company and the distribution of wealth to its stakeholders.

It’s only through men that knowledge can be ascertained. It’s an interesting concept in today’s techno-crazy world, but the fact of the matter is this: we must use the tools about us to implement an organized plan of attack. We can’t rely on one facet of information – we must gather what the internet tells us, what our customers tell us, what our gut tells us, and then transform all the streams of information into a river of knowledge from which we may fish endlessly.

I know there are some here who wonder about why we engage in this exercise – why expose our own skills to others? The fact of the matter is this: we are a happy few who, for some reason or other, bumped into each other in a common quest for knowledge and it’s from this type of sharing that we all learn. The master strategist Sun Tzu, 2500 years ago, saw fit to do it – we should forge a new path? We should re-invent the wheel when this one works so well? We’re not doing anything novel, we’re not discovering any new secrets, we’re not smarter than the next person, we’re only applying tried-and-true maxims to our working lives. We’re just lucky. Besides, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!


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