You Can Self-fulfill a Prophecy, Just Ask the Right People!

I just read two recent articles explaining that nearly every single employable American will be looking for a new job in 2011.  Perhaps as many as 98% of all Americans! To tell the truth I was shocked.  First, I gnashed my teeth. Then, I pulled my hair.  I panicked when I realized what a drain this would be on companies.  It seemed as if we were all going to go through the tumultuous year in our lives. Just as I was about to hyperventilate, I looked at the source of the information.Both surveys were conducted by staffing and job-board companies. Needless to say that changed my outlook just a tiny bit. It can’t be surprising that a bunch of people who are signed up with recruiters or online job boards will tell you that they are looking for a job! What is surprising is that these articles were picked up by media outlets and reported without insight or comment.

The first article was published by Rueters and in one place it reads: “The survey, conducted by jobs websites Monster.com and HotJobs.com, found 98 percent of Americans polled were looking to make a change in their work situation in 2011.” There is no mention of whether the 3737 people surveyed were from your company or mine, but I think it is safe to assume that many of them are signed up on HotJobs.com or Monster.com.

The second article was published by the Hartford Business Journal Online. The data came from a survey conducted by Right Management (part of Manpower) and discusses that 84% of employees say they will look for a new job in 2011.  A favorite quote from the article is “In Connecticut alone that represents approximately $79 billion in non-farm salaried individuals shifting jobs, and during significant job changes an organization’s productivity can drop by as much as 34 percent, according to research presented by the Connecticut Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s kind of like when any of the major cable news networks tells you that 90% of their callers agree with a pundit. Of course they agree, they are watching your channel!

Perhaps 2011 is the year that 98% of Americans will look for a new job.  Perhaps this is the year that every company will be in the 75th percentile of pay, without it driving pay upwards.  This may even be the year that stock options granted while the market was depressed by a global economic failure will become incredibly valuable due only to the underlying success of the issuing company.  I am sure we will all see data to support each of these positions as the year progresses.

A more realistic scenario is that the majority of people working at your company were not represented by the survey. Executive compensation often suffers a similar dilemma. Companies analyze the filings of peers. Filings are mainly about changes that have been made.  No change equals no significant data.  The data gathered then ignores companies where things have stayed fairly static. We can end up building our trends while excluding the companies where the trend is “things will stay the same.” The next year they build their future trends on our actions.  We fulfill the prophecy by being a part of it.

Our industry is beset by complexity in design, data and regulation that is beyond what we have ever known. We must remember that taking information at face value contributed to what got us here. The only way to avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy is to do the right thing, instead of trying to be right.

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Executive Pay and the Emperor's New Clothes