$2 billion company has no HR or IT

$2 billion company has no HR or IT

CEO Secrets: “My billion pound company has no HR department”

Source: BBC News
By Dougal Shaw

Greg Jackson is the founder and CEO of Octopus Energy, a UK start-up valued at more than £1.4bn ($2bn), selling green energy. Despite now having more than 1,200 employees, he says he has no interest in traditional things like human resources (HR) and information technology (IT) departments.

There is a tendency for large companies to “infantilise” their employees and “drown creative people in process and bureaucracy”, says Jackson.

HR and IT departments don’t make employees happier or more productive in his experience, he says.

So he doesn’t have them.

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Nick’s take

We’ve discussed why Human Resources is unnecessary before. Tom Peters, a management sage of the 1980s, famously said the maximum size of an organization before it begins to fail is 11. He later upped it to 25. Greg Jackson turns even this unconventional wisdom on its head. Jackson has 1,200 employees and his company seems to work well because none are in HR or IT. I wish the article included more details about “how” other employees can handle such tasks.

Can a company with 1,200 employees really operate without HR and IT departments? Are managers and employees really going to learn to do those tasks? How? Can somebody in HR or IT enlighten us? What’s your take?



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Can I make it in my own consulting business?

Can I make it in my own consulting business?


consultingThe post-COVID economy is a wake-up call. My full-time job could disappear any day. I’m not waiting around to find out when that will happen. I’ve decided to leave now and enter the world of consulting. How do I market my services cost-effectively? How do I find customers? I network through a professional society, and I’m considering putting out feelers with direct mail and phone calling, but I haven’t tried this yet. I’m also looking into hiring someone to do marketing for me. What do you think about this idea? I’m very good at what I do, but marketing isn’t my expertise. Think I can pull this off, Nick? Any help you can offer will be greatly appreciated.

Nick’s Reply

You have identified the toughest problem in consulting: winning clients.

Start consulting by talking to friends

Your best marketing tool is your reputation. You need to learn how to leverage it by discussing your new business with potential clients — people you have worked with in the past who know the quality of your work. This is even better than networking through your professional society, which should nonetheless be part of your strategy.

You can further leverage existing contacts by getting personal referrals through your work associates: your co-workers, your current employer’s customers (don’t steal them — pick their brains), and the vendors you have worked with. These are the people you have depended on and who have depended on you. Go to them now.

Jump-start a consulting business

I’ll offer you one way to jump-start your new business that I’ve used successfully when launching new businesses. You’ll find a different version of this in Alan Weiss’s excellent book, Getting Started in Consulting.

A powerful marketing method is to poll managers you hope will give you consulting assignments — without asking for business. This is a kind of market research. Reach out first to companies and managers that know you. Explain that you’re considering going out on your own, and that you’d appreciate their advice and insights.

How to Say It
“I’m talking with a few managers I respect. I’d like just ten minutes of your time to answer three questions for me. (1) What kinds of work do you hire consultants to do? (2) What do you look for in consultants you hire? (3) What is the process a consultant has to follow to get your business?”

This is not quite a sales pitch, so don’t sell — not yet. Focus on requesting advice and insights. Use their answers to help you decide whether to make the leap. This approach has the added value of letting these managers know you may be available for assignments. If they are helpful, add this final question: “Is there any advice you’d give me about starting my own consulting business?” (Another is, “Can you suggest any managers or companies that might need services I’d be offering?”)

Getting advice vs. selling

Of course, these managers will read between the lines. They know you’re looking for clients. But you’re not putting them on the spot because you’re not pitching. It’s a fine line, so don’t cross it unless they invite you to. I find this approach tells me pretty quickly who my first prospects might be. Of course, some of these folks will not take the bait. Don’t force it! Thank them and move on to the next.

Beware of spending too much of your capital on third-party marketing services. They can blow through your budget very quickly. If you hire a marketer, make the compensation dependent on new sales. For a one-person consulting shop, the best marketers are really salespeople, and they earn commissions, not fees.

Earning seed capital vs. long-term marketing

The purpose of the polling method is to fund your new business with one or two purchase orders as quickly as possible. But it’s a rare newbie consultant that can keep building a business this way. Your next step is to begin the long, methodical process of establishing a presence and building a reputation.

Weiss offers suggestions about how to build a reputation, like writing specialized articles, doing speaking gigs, teaching, and many others. As an example, I wrote a book, and over a period of years it has yielded excellent results for my business. My book is the best business card I’ve ever had! It’s generated even more exposure as it led to radio, TV and other media appearances. The hidden message: The best promotion for your business takes time.

There’s no quick and easy way into consulting

Be careful about marketing by “putting out feelers” or by using mailings. You won’t be taken seriously. I get such junk mail all the time; I don’t even open it. Feelers are not serious attempts to get business. You must prove to a potential client that you can solve their problems and to do that you must show you know the person and their company. Junk mail proves you don’t know them.

I believe the best way to find new clients is to identify who you want to work for first. Determine what their problems are and be ready to outline how you would help make them more successful. This challenge is far more important than producing a resume or marketing materials that you broadcast widely. You’re more likely to win desirable business if you go after the right clients to begin with.

You’ve got a tough road, but it can be satisfying and lucrative if you keep your wits about you and don’t expect the world all at once. The main reason new consultancies fail is because once they’ve got a project or two going, they stop marketing and there’s no “next project” when the previous one ends. Watch your war chest; make it last. And when the wins come in, leverage them for more business. I wish you the best!

Have you ever hung out a shingle? How did you make the transition from employee to consultant? Do your skills lend themselves to consulting? What’s the most important factor in starting a successful consultancy? What’s the quickest way to failure?

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Can employer clawback my $6,000 bonus?

Can employer clawback my $6,000 bonus?


clawbackThe company I worked for paid me quarterly bonuses for performance but the bonuses are based on the final performance of the entire team for the whole year. The final calculation determines whether you get even more bonus or give some back. The calculation was done after I left. I thought that I would be due more bonus but they claim I owe a refund. The bonus is $6,000; not a lot for them, but for me it is. HR sent a letter asking for it. I reviewed the policy. There is no clawback clause and nothing was signed. I don’t know of any other case where they took back bonus money from an employee who left. What do you think?

Nick’s Reply

I’m not a lawyer and cannot give you legal advice, so I advise that you talk with an attorney. It will likely be worth the few hundred bucks it will cost. All I will offer are some observations and opinions.

Avoid clawbacks to begin with

I don’t like any kind of compensation or bonus plan with clawback provisions. A clawback is when an employer pays you money, then wants some or all of it back. Use of the word “claw” says it all.

Clawbacks are contractual provisions. That means you agreed to it, usually in writing. Unless it’s an executive position, I advise people never to sign or agree to such deals. A clawback is usually a penalty, and that’s no way to establish a good working relationship. Because most people don’t have employment contracts to begin with, and your company already paid you the money, I think they are at the disadvantage — but it depends on the details.

What was the clawback agreement?

I also think there is an important distinction between the company re-balancing the bonus at the end of each year as you described, and paying a bonus and attempting to claw it back after an employee is long gone. The time to establish such a claim is in the exit meeting. (I discuss that further below.)

Review what you and the company agreed to upon hire and upon separation from employment.

  • Did you sign anything agreeing to this as part of your compensation and bonus plan?
  • Did the company notify you there would be a clawback on your departure?
  • Upon your departure did you sign any exit documents at all that might apply to this? Go back and read them carefully.
  • Now that you’re gone, how are they going to come after you if you don’t pay the bonus back?
  • Would they take legal action to collect $6,000? How much would that cost them?
  • What happens if you just ignore the demand and let them go suck rocks?

If you agreed to this in advance, I’m not suggesting that you stiff them just because you might get away with it. But it seems when you departed you honestly believed the slate was clean and your account zeroed out, because no one told you otherwise.

Parting terms

To avoid this and other problems when exiting a company, see Parting Company | How to leave your job. This PDF book includes a bonus mp3.
As I said earlier, the time for an employer to establish a clawback claim is in the exit meeting. I think the reasonable expectation is that all liabilities (on both sides) are settled upon your exit. A good HR department will make the terms of your parting clear, usually in writing, and ask you to confirm your understanding with your signature.

HR will reconcile all accounts just before an employee leaves, not after the fact. For example, they’ll take back the computer, keys, credit cards and other assets they issued to you. And they’ll give you a statement about what they owe you (e.g., an outstanding paycheck or expense reimbursement) and what you owe them.

What claim does the company have on that bonus now that you’re gone? That’s what a lawyer will help you determine based on the facts of your unique situation.

These are my observations and opinions based on what I’ve seen over many years. What you do is up to you, of course. A good lawyer can explain your legal options once you share all the details.

Have you ever lost money to a clawback provision? What happened? Does your employment include a clawback? What’s it for? What could an employer give you that would be worth you signing a clawback agreement? Are clawbacks even fair, or a smart tool for anybody?

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Should you discount your salary to get your foot in the door?

Should you discount your salary to get your foot in the door?


get your foot in the doorHow do you get your foot in the door without the necessary degree (yet)? I’m changing careers from computer programming to bioinformatics, which is a field that uses computers to answer biological questions. Most bioinformaticians I’ve spoken to consider computing to be a more important skill than genetics. While I’m almost finished with a masters in the field, I really need to get a job, but most jobs list a degree as a requirement.

I’m considering selling my lack of a completed degree as an opportunity for the employer to snag an experienced programmer who’s new to bioinformatics at a discount, if they hire me now vs. waiting until I finish my degree when I’ll be more marketable.

Is this a good idea? I know it will have an impact on my ability to negotiate a salary, but 2020 has left me in a position where I simply must have an income. So my concern is more about whether it will look bad, or presumptuous.

If you think it’s a good move, how should I phrase this “value proposition?” Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

I don’t think we have many bioinformaticians in our community, but your question is a good one for us because it would be relevant to anyone contemplating a significant change in careers. The words “degree required” often stop talented people dead in their tracks when it should just make them find a way around that obstacle.

Paying to get your foot in the door

While I like your “willingness to deal” to get hired, I’m not sure the savings would mean enough to an employer to affect their decision to hire you now one way or the other. In fact, making your discount offer to help you get in the door might complicate the calculus. Getting a discount could actually put an undue emphasis on the risk the manager feels they’re taking. Make sense?

“Degree required” is often negotiable if the candidate can show relevant experience or related education (or potent, relevant references). You could easily submit an application that notes “degree expected Month, 2021.”

Networking to get in the door

This is a case where I think my general advice to avoid applying with resumes and forms is all the more important. Resumes and forms cannot defend you or explain the valuable trade-off your computing skills represent. If you had a personal referral to the hiring manager, you could reduce the risk of being rejected out of hand for lack of the degree. A good word from a trusted contact could lead the manager to take a chance on you. I really think investing time and effort to identify and quickly develop such a contact could be invaluable.

My guess is you have some companies in mind. Start mapping out the network of people who might help you —  people connected to each company and others associated in turn. It’s a little-known fact that the nodes on the periphery of a network are often the most useful and productive (cf. Six Degrees: The Science of A Connected Age, Duncan Watts). This means the person that will ultimately help you is probably unknown to you today. Map out that network exhaustively. Start dropping notes to people you identify that might provide you with insights, advice and introductions. If networking like this makes you shudder, learn how even shy people can network.

The ideal referral or introduction would come from someone who connects the dots for the hiring manager about how your programming expertise would benefit the manager.

Think like the manager

If I were the employer you approached, a lot would depend on the specific job I was trying to fill. If it’s standalone (vs. working on a team) or a senior role, I might really want at least a couple of years hands-on experience in bioinformatics specifically. But if all the weight of that specialization is not going to be on the new hire, I’d probably consider a sharp new grad who shows me they can ride a fast learning curve without falling off. I think you need to appeal to the latter kinds of managers.

To get your foot in the door without the degree it’s crucial for you to glean insights from people in bioinformatics who know and work for managers you may want to work for. So making such contacts is all the more important. They will hopefully influence a manager and also provide you with insights so you can choose managers and companies wisely. (These folks might also help you with your question about offering a salary discount.) You need that extra edge.

Get an edge to get that foot in the door

Gene Webb, my mentor at Stanford, was a biz school professor whose research was in decision theory. He taught all his students this: If you’re going to take a bet, any marginal bit of information you have that your competitors don’t have makes the bet worth taking. Employers are so reliant on keywords in resumes and job applications that any candidate’s odds of success are — in my opinion — about the same. They’re all tiny! The recruiting process reduces even the best candidates to even odds of being brought in for an interview. The marginal advantage, which is always worth cultivating, is a personal recommendation. It raises your odds of getting a meeting dramatically. (Here are some ways to get an edge.)

I wouldn’t sell myself short by offering a pre-emptive discount to get your foot in the door. Even if you’re going to make the offer, it should be via personal conversation or via a referral the manager trusts. There’s just too much chance such an offer on a document (that can’t defend itself) will be read the wrong way. I would not do it. That said, if your interview goes swimmingly but the manager seems hesitant about that degree, well, then you might play the discount card. Now you’d be doing it the right way – face to face, and you’d be able to answer any questions the manager has about your offer. However, how you play it would depend on any new information you gather in that interview.

Would you offer a salary discount to get a job — regardless of your line of work — when you don’t meet all the requirements? If you’re a manager, how would you regard an applicant that offers to accept a lower salary in exchange for a shot at the job? What other clever methods can this reader use to get a shot?

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Automated reference checks: Now you need 2X the references

Automated reference checks: Now you need 2X the references

HiPeople picks up $3M seed to automate reference checks

Source: TechCrunch
By Steve O’Hear

HiPeoplereference checks, an HR tech startup based in Berlin that wants to automate the reference checking process, has raised $3 million in seed funding. HiPeople says the investment will be used to support growth so that more recruiters can hire remotely using automated reference checks.

“Abstractly-speaking HiPeople is in the talent insights business,” say [founders] Gillmann and Schüller. “HiPeople currently solves this by automating candidate reference checks from request, to collection, and analysis. This allows companies to extend the information they have on a candidate without additional manual work”.

As a result, the startup claims that its users on average collect 2x the amount of references on a candidate. “Workflow automation of repetitive processes, and insights on the candidate that go beyond the limitations of the CV, are a clear pain for anybody in recruiting.”

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Nick’s take

Actually talking to your references is a clear pain for anybody in recruiting. So these guys are going to automate yet one more aspect of recruiting and hiring by eliminating even more human judgment from the process. Because, as HR execs like to say, people are our most important asset!

How does this automation of reference checking affect you, the job seeker? I shudder to guess at how your references will communicate their subtle judgments and comments about you when there’s no conversation, no back-and-forth. But these guys didn’t create this service to benefit you. It’s to enable recruiters to gather 2X the amount of references without manual work!

So do you have 2X the number of references who will gleefully report to the Robo Reference Checker? (You could always just decline to provide references.)

Is this going to help or hinder you at getting a job offer? Does it mean less work for you? How about your references? What’s your take?



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How To Say It: I want a second-chance interview

How To Say It: I want a second-chance interview


second-chance interviewI’d like a second-chance interview. I messed up last month and cancelled an interview for a job because I didn’t like the commute — it’s pretty far. The job would be remote until COVID is under control, but at some point I’ll have to be in the office. Now I’ve done some homework about the firm. I’ve learned that the work they do is right up my alley and I’ve had a change of heart about the location. I honestly feel that the trade-off of a satisfying and challenging job would more than make up for the bad traffic I’ll have to eventually face.

I feel so stupid. I should have done the interview because I still would have had the option to reject an offer if the distance really bothered me. Now I want to call the manager back and try to salvage this if possible. When he originally got my resume, the manager was pretty persistent about meeting me and seemed disappointed when I cancelled.

A friend of mine said I should just be honest. But how can I avoid coming across as indecisive? I’m interested in making a commitment. How can I convey this and get an interview again?

Nick’s Reply

I agree with your friend. Be honest about what happened. Eat a little crow, but don’t be too apologetic or overly defensive. That would make you appear weak and indecisive. It’s critical that you speak with the manager directly, not with the personnel office. This is not unlike blowing an interview and asking for another chance. Modify this to suit your style, and I think it might get you a meeting:

How to Say It

“I want to thank you again for requesting an interview. The only reason I declined was the commute, but when I consider all the firms I could work with, yours is the one that motivates me the most. Your business most clearly matches my expertise and my interests.

“It’s well worth a drive to work with the right people. What I’m saying is that I’d like to meet you, if you’re still interested in talking. I realize the job may no longer be available, but I’d still like to make your acquaintance, if you can look past the egg that’s on my face.”

Those last few words reveal a generous level of humility without embarrassing you. State your case, then let the manager decide. (Crow doesn’t really taste that bad.) It might get you that second-chance interview.

Two last things: If you get that meeting, be careful not to come across as indecisive again, and if you’re seriously interested in the job, tell the manager you’d like to work there before you depart. You will not get a third chance.

How hard is it to “go back” and try again? If you were the hiring manager, would you give this job seeker a second-chance interview? Have you ever stowed your pride and asked for a second chance? Got any tips about how to say it?