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Haroon Q. Raja

Technology Solutions Architect

Trouble attracting quality talent? Here’s your problem!

Every now and then, I’m fortunate enough to be approached by headhunters and top level management showing interest in hiring me for important roles in their organization. And while I’m not actively looking for a full-time job due to focusing primarily on establishing my consultancy and freelancing career under my own brand, I’m certainly open to the right option from the right organization. And in order to determine whether it’s the right organization or not, I do my full due diligence, and that’s where things get complicated.

So, what constitutes the right organization? The answer may be different for different people depending on their career stage, priorities and responsibilities. For me, though, the test is quite simple: If someone working in the organization would recommend it as a healthy and fulfilling working environment to someone they care about, there you have it!

There’s simply nothing more assuring about an organization’s suitability as a workplace than an existing happy employee’s private endorsement to someone they personally value. Similarly, there’s nothing more alarming about a potential workplace than an existing unhappy employee’s warning to someone they’re concerned about enough to not want to see them in an environment they already know to be toxic.

To further illustrate my point, I’ll provide a recent personal example. Earlier this year, I was approached by an acquaintance asking me if I’d be interested in leading the technical department of a multinational organization looking to expand its operations in Pakistan. With an already established presence in several countries, an impressive client portfolio, very lucrative salary and benefits package, flexibility in terms of working hours and locations, ample paid holidays and very ambitious goals for our local market, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. Though as usual, I asked for time to consider, and started looking to see if I knew someone already working in the organization.

Turned out, a very close friend had been working with them in a top leadership position for a few years in their head office. Here’s the conversation I had with him, with irrelevant bits and any personally identifiable information redacted.

Me: This acquaintance [redacted] asked me recently if I were interested in a senior tech position with [redacted], and also asked if I could connect them with potential candidates for other positions. Are you currently working for them?

Him: Oh wow, small world. Yeah I’m at [redacted] and we’re setting up our [redacted] in [redacted]. Business is growing so need to expand the team.

Me: That’s great! What’s your role with them?

Him: I’m heading the [redacted] divisions.

Me: That sounds super! Good place to work for?

Him: Yeah, it has it’s perks. It’s getting better.

Me: Great!

Him: Used to be quite a shitty gig, but things are getting more organized now. With [redacted] in place, things will get MUCH better. There’s only so much time you can spend as the one man army before you burn out.

[Here’s where things start to get interesting]

Me: Right now I’m working on some short-term freelance projects, and something potentially big is in works for the long term, which may or may not materialize. If it doesn’t, I might look into options. Would [redacted] be worth considering for someone like me?

Him: Strictly between you and me, no.

Me: I see. Reasons?

Him: Lack of gratitude and financial growth.

Me: Yeah, both would be major concerns.

Him: They’ll be your best friends while you’re working. As long as you don’t ask for a raise.

Me: Thanks for the headsup!

Him: I’ve been seriously considering leaving for some time, but then decide to stick around for other personal reasons.

Me: This sort of stuff is important. Entrepreneurs don’t realize how even their prize employee might be driving away potential high value talent by telling them how things truly are. And how they need to change to remedy this. How those savings by not giving well-earned raises end up costing them potentially more in the long run, or even in the short run.

Him: Someone trying to implement MNC level rigid rules & regulations in a nascent startup, which purely serve the company at employee’s expense, that’s what kills so many companies.

Me: Spot on!

Him: Startups and corporations are very different beasts. Both have a very different pulse, and a CEO needs to be very aware of the differences.

Me: Even if it doesn’t kill the startup, it fosters an environment where employees don’t give a damn about the organization, but are only sticking with it as a compromise. And wouldn’t recommend it to the people they know as a viable place to work.

Him: You’re closer to the truth than you realize.

Me: Now that you’ve told me this, I hope you find a better replacement ASAP InshaAllah.

Him: I joined because [redacted]. But things often turn out one-sided and I’m not always on the winning side, mainly because I hate being the asshole. But I guess the time will come soon enough.

Me: Yeah I can imagine. And that’s not the most comfortable position to find yourself in.

Him: Precisely.

Me: But if what you’re saying is right, then you aren’t being the asshole by saying it, and you wouldn’t be one if you choose not to stick with the job if the situation persists. Though I realize it’s easier said than done when we have financial responsibilities to meet.

Him: On one end, I want the company to succeed and I can see that I’m the critical success factor in so many situations. But with no financial growth in [redacted] years leaves a very sour taste in your mouth, no matter how well-intended your efforts are.

Me: Yes. Especially for someone in such a key position, it’s even more important. If you aren’t happy with it, how’d you give your best to running things?

Him: I don’t, to be honest. I haven’t, for the majority of this year. I’m like a V12 Formula 1 car running on 2 cylinders at the moment.

Me: Yeah that’s natural.

Him: There’s just no motivation.

Me: If you aren’t getting the fulfillment, how’d you muster the motivation?

Him: Promises, promises… and then scapegoats and circumstantial excuses.

Me: See that’s how they’re probably losing a lot more than they’re saving by not giving you the raise. Probably by an order of magnitude!

Him: Focusing on my shortcomings, which are SQUARELY the result of my low job satisfaction, and tell-tale signs of a demotivated employee.

Me: How can employers be so damn blind in a matter this important to their business is what completely eludes me.

Him: Self-centered mentality. The employee has to be PERFECT before he can expect a raise.

Me: That’s how they achieve in ten years what they could in one. And also how they end up spending a lot more than they save, in lost productivity costs and time costs.

Him: Anyway, thanks for listening to the rant.

Me: Anytime mate. May Allah improve things for you substantially soon!

As you can tell after reading the above conversation, any consideration I intended to give to the opportunity suddenly went poof! Something like this from a prize employee – the guy who’s primarily running the entire show, necessarily – is the biggest warning sign any organization can put up to drive away potential talent, without even realizing it.

You might be thinking how could it be possible to find a friend in every organization who could warn us against potential toxic work environments. In today’s connected world, you might be surprised at how easy it can be. In fact you needn’t even directly know someone there – you can always ask around in your circle and it’s likely that you’ll find someone who knows someone there. And then you don’t even have to ask them yourself – just ask the mutual contact to ask them on your behalf. They’ll be more likely to confide in an existing contact than a new one, when it comes to being upfront about something like this.

At times upon being unable to find such a contact, I’ve gone to the length of actually approaching and befriending someone from the organization, taking them out for coffee or just hanging out with them at some event, in order to get them to confide in me about their workplace. And in the process, I’ve made a few good friends as well. I’m sure I’m not the only one who goes to such lengths in their due diligence on organizations they’re considering to join – there are a lot of smart people out there who consider this a basic first step, just the way they should. If you aren’t doing so already, now is the time to start, because when you aim to give an organization your very best, you deserve nothing short of their very best in return. Anything else is a compromise.

The takeaway here for organizations, HR departments and especially top-level management is that the savings you make by delaying that raise or promotion that your prize, hardworking employee deserves, and not taking their job satisfaction seriously actually cost you a lot more in the long run, not just in terms of lost productivity of said employee, but also lost time and expense on recruitment, only to end up with sub par talent, because those who know any better wouldn’t like to work for you. Being adamant in your old ways will only take you so far, with those who value their employees’ well being taking the lead. Change, before it’s too late!

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