tail wagging the dog - three dog tails

For decades, it’s largely been an employer’s market. Corporations held the reins and controlled the power in the employment market.

But things are changing—there’s a power shift occurring in the employee-employer marketplace.
After all, we’ve just endured two years of unprecedented, pandemic-related turbulence in the U.S. job market. And that meant an equally unprecedented volume of layoffs and downsizings.
But that was then and this is now.

A quick look at some recent stats from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we find that—as of June 8, 2022—the number of job openings in the U.S. has surged to a record-high 9.3 million.
So, it now appears that the job market is back—and it’s hot.

But with these openings in mind, it’s important to note that it’s definitely an employees’ market. Thus, my “tail wagging the dog” reference. Confronted with this paradigm shift, I’ve had employers ask me, “So how do we flex to capture talent in this really competitive market, without giving everything away?”

Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?

Here’s a ‘tale-tell’ example.

Over the past couple of years, many aircraft schedulers have come to prefer working from home. Yet, for many flight departments, it would be impossible to let them do so 100 percent of the time.

So that begs the question for employers: “How do we locate some common ground on this issue? How can we find a compromise that lets employers and employees share control, rather than, in this case, giving schedulers control of the entire dynamic?

I think a lot of employers are grappling with this issue in many different contexts. Suddenly, it feels like they have very little power.

And, again, it feels like the tail is wagging the dog.

When I was at the recent IBAA luncheon, I shared with some aviation employers that there definitely are some areas where they can find compromise. Conversely, there are other areas when doing so threatens to degrade their company values and their mission.

And those principles are fundamental to the core of their organization. I said: “Even though I know you may feel desperate for help, you need to have some boundaries as to what you’re willing—and unwilling—to do. You have to determine where you decide to use your ‘reputational capital’ within your organization.”

From my observation, some employers are feeling desperate in this hiring climate. And, in that desperation, they’re bending too far and giving too much.

From a pilot and maintenance hiring standpoint, they see the talent pool thinning, and they’re making compromises within their hiring criteria. Some hiring managers shared with me that they’ve had to entertain candidates with almost abrasive characteristics simply because there are so few to choose from. These are the areas where compromise has potentially tremendous, negative impact.

The ’Sustainable Compromise’

Let’s face it: we all make compromises when we’re in a tough situation. But, oftentimes, those compromises aren’t sustainable. At some point in our careers, we’ve all had the feeling that we’re bending too far backwards to make something work, and, in the end, we prove our intuition correct; the compromise simply isn’t sustainable.

So maybe that’s the distinction we employers have to acknowledge and uphold. We have to ask ourselves: “What is a ‘sustainable compromise’? What will work today that will continue to work several months down the road?”

Let me give you a compensation-related example.

An aviation director recently told me that he had to build a compensation package for a new pilot hire. In doing so, he realized that the compensation that his current pilots receive isn’t competitive enough to attract the new pilot (or anyone else).

The best advice I could offer was to work through the internal equity issues before actively seeking new talent. I explained that when we “have our house in order,” we operate from a place of confidence, rather than feeling out of control and desperate. If we’re organized and our culture is healthy, we’re more likely to attract those who would flourish in our environment.

Map it Out

One of the best ways to be competitive is to be keenly aware of your organization’s strengths and some areas where improvements might be needed. Better yet, list those areas and share them with prospective talent.

The bottom line is that everyone is clamoring for talent, and everyone has a sense of urgency about it.
But the fact is, as a hiring professional, you should resist the urge to alter your processes from a defensive position. Even if these strained times might call for it. You cannot abandon your structure.

You first have to ask yourself, “What are we looking for to complement our organization? What’s the job description?” And then, of course, “What are our mission and values and how do they factor into our candidates’ background and qualifications?”

Finally, there’s the compensation factor to consider.

It’s critical that all of these factors be in order before you make any decision. Otherwise, you are going to, indeed, let the tail wag the dog.

That’s when you feel like you’re out of control, right? And it’s because you’re in a reactionary state. You’re not proactively beginning from a solid foundation, and then recruiting along a very well-defined set of procedural guidelines.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot to be said for being able to read the situation, and then exercise some open-mindedness and creativity. But you have to sort that out before you go looking for talent. It needs to be mapped out ahead of time.

So, returning to my canine analogy, I think it’s these “reactionaries” who end up feeling like they’re being wagged by the tail. On the other hand (or paw!), having a structured plan and sticking to it is how a department retains some of that control.

All in the Family

Lastly, here at API, we always conduct what’s called an “Environmental Assessment” for new clients so we can learn about their culture. And 100 percent of the time, they say that we’re “like a family” here. I like to remind them that in our own hiring practices, we consciously seek out potential employees whom we feel can literally join us at our dining room table. We take that criterion seriously, and it doesn’t ever follow upon a rash or reactionary hiring experience.

So remember, in this job climate, don’t allow yourself to give in to desperation. Be proactive, follow your hiring protocols and you’ll be able to keep the dogs—and their wagging tails—at bay.

About the Author

Jennifer Pickerel is the Vice President of Aviation Personnel International. To learn more, read her bio.

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