Walk the Grid

Aug 27, 2008

A young recruiter form the UK ventured into a networking group (RBC) I belong to and asked where he could find technicians who work at BMW or Mercedes franchise dealers. He said the manager or the service receptionist names were easy to find, but he needed to find the guys working on the cars. I gave him some quick and easy advice.

“Call and ask for the breakroom or — is there a cafeteria? Ask for that. Many times there’s a black wall phone hanging over a grimy desk with lots of post-it notes and writing on the wall. If anyone is in there, they might answer! These sites usually have a car wash section too — they wash the cars for these high-end customers here in the states before returning them after service. Ask for the ‘car-wash person.’ When you get him or her on the phone, tell him you’re in the wrong place — you know that — can s/he tell you who one of the technicians is, so you might ask for him by name? Chances are he will tell you. And then when he tells you one, ask for another, and then another. Be gentle with him. Don’t scare him,” I add last, chuckling knowingly to myself.

And then I surprised myself when I told him, “Walk the grid in your mind — think about who works where and what they know — then go directly at them…”

“Walk the grid.” I suppose this is another way of saying, “Become one with your target and imagine yourself inside your target, walking around the place, looking here and snooping there, all the while minding your own very real business.”

And then, as a further surprise in my day, I’m lying in bed that night surfing the channels and what comes up but the movie “Bone Collector.”

Still not putting two and two together, I click on it (it was an entertaining movie!) and the movie is at the scene where Denzel Washington (Rhyme, a crippled cop/teacher ) is telling Angelina Jolie (Amanda Donaghy, rookie cop) to “walk the grid” in order to collect evidence at a grisly crime scene. Rhyme recognizes a natural talent in Donaghy for the work and assumes a mentor position with her. Donaghy (Jolie), struggling with past trauma and an innate calling to obey Rhyme’s instructions, walks her first grid, collecting evidence that helps to ultimately catch the killer.

I’m reminded of the words that popped out of my mouth without thinking earlier in the day and sigh, knowing that on the morrow I will be compelled to obey what I think of as the calling in the cosmos, walking my own kind of grid in the composition of this missive.

‘Walking the grid” is a forensics term; one meaning is to scour a crime scene — to scrutinize it. The terminology is also used in computer and positioning terminology, but before anyone leaps to the conclusion that I will be talking about actual crime scenes — I will not be. I am using fanciful imagery for the purpose of explaining one of my sourcing processes from an observer’s perspective. This is an attempt to wash the reader’s mind of any value and/or value judgment and to recast it with the practice of probing and questioning; in other words, a “learning how to learn” technique.

Donaghy: “I can’t do this.”
Rhyme: “You can do it. Yes you can. Yesterday you stopped a train. You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.”
Donaghy: “Don’t work me, Ryan. Just tell me what to do next.”
Rhyme: “Very slowly, walk the grid. One foot in front of the other. I want you to look around you now. Remember, crime scenes are three-dimensional: floors, walls and ceilings.”
Donaghy: “There’s a small piece of wood and what looks like some hair.”
Rhyme: “Alright, I’m going to walk you through collecting the evidence. You do everything exactly as I say.”

“Walking the grid” inside a target company means to “walk” through the front door of a company and freely investigate the environs in your mind. I always see the puzzled looks on the faces of my students when I say this in class. Not many people think to venture inside a company like this. Crime scenes are three-dimensional: floors, walls and ceilings. So are sourcing jobs.

The idea is that each “target” has similar characteristics. Depending on what’s going on at the site (headquarters will usually be larger and far busier than branch sites) each location will have pretty much the same activities going on. There will be, at headquarter sites for example, many times, marketing (including business development, alliances and corporate marketing), finance (including investor relations), some sales, many times R&D, most of the C-level executives and administrative staffs that it takes to support the various departments, sometimes support, operations (including maintenance), security, and last, but not least in our book, HR!

The one thing that 99% of them have is a receptionist(s) — also known as “gatekeepers” — on staff who meets the public onslaught at the front door. You and I are generally included in that warring horde, and you have seen me many times discuss how to deal with the gatekeeper, including envisioning what she looks like, what her environs look like, and what’s going on around her in the moments you are attempting to get and hold her attention. But what happens when you can’t deal with the gatekeeper? What happens when she won’t let you through?

In addition to the departments listed out above, company locations are also likely to/might have the following physical characteristics:

  • brick and mortar exteriors
  • doors
  • individual offices of all sizes and character
  • floors, walls, and ceilings
  • levels
  • elevators
  • stairwells
  • bathrooms
  • breakrooms
  • mailrooms
  • conference rooms, large and small
  • media rooms
  • reception areas
  • maintenance facilities
  • security gates and guardstons and tons of office equipment
  • cafeterias
  • gyms
  • childcare facilities
  • dry cleaners and other services
  • vending machines
  • hallways
  • whole campuses with several buildings
  • parking lots
  • sidewalks
  • landscaping/lakes with ducks on them

Many, many other physical attributes but I think you’re getting the picture with what I’ve listed out above.

The idea here is to encapsulate in your mind what the joint looks like. Did you know you can go to Google Earth and “Explore, Search, and Discover”? That Google Earth lets you fly anywhere on Earth to view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, and 3-D buildings for location-specific information? This function was formerly known as “Keyhole” and many a time I use it to get a bird’s eye view of a company location. With a glimpse I can see how many buildings a company has on its campus, where the parking lots are located, if they have a security detail cars must pass through, if the location appears isolated or not, and lots and lots of extraneous information I know you are having a hard time comprehending what this has to do with sourcing.

This visual information, coupled with the statistical information I get from Hoover’s and the location information I get from the company website, allows me to begin the “grid walks” in my searches at my individual targets. If I see that a company has 14,000 total employees (at Hoover’s) and 2,750 of them are at headquarters (yes, Hoovers tells you this!) and I see at Google Earth that the company’s headquarters has six buildings, I can pretty much infer that each building might contain separate (and whole) functions. When I call the front desk this information has many times afforded me just the familiar “ring” I needed in my pursuit.

Let’s say I called my first target company in the first morning of my search. Shirley answered and she wouldn’t let me pass with my normal approach. I note her name in my research document because I know I’m going to be calling back. I call her back the second morning. I do a change-up in my approach. I know that Shirley has answered literally hundreds of calls since last we spoke. She is not likely to remember me.

Hi Shirley. This is Maureen Sharib. I’m trying to reach Operations — they’re not in your building are they?

Oh, no Maureen — they’re in Building 5 — you need that number?

Yes, I could sure use it!

Here you go — Maria should answer — she’s the receptionist in that building.

In case Maria doesn’t answer, Shirley, can you tell me who heads up Operations over there?”

Sure! That’s Bob Jones…

And so it goes more often than not. This is part of what is called “competitive intelligence” and it’s not as hard as it sounds. Sure, it involves a good amount of legwork on the front end. This is the beginning of the work, and things evolve from this point. But, as you can see, it’s a methodical tracing on each and every search and if you do this, if you “walk the grid” at each of your target companies, I promise you results!

Here’s another scenario.

Hi Maria, Shirley gave me your number. I was trying to reach Bob Jones – is he in?

I haven’t seen him come in yet this morning. You want his voice mail?

Well, no, not really — maybe you can tell me — who supports him?

That would be Arleen — she’s not in yet either — it’s early!

I know. Has anyone in Operations come in yet?

Oh, sure, Pete Miller always gets here first — he went up just a few minutes ago — you want him?

That would be great, Maria, — before you transfer me, so I don’t sound so stupid when I get him on the phone, WHAT IS HIS TITLE?

More times than not she’ll fluidly answer after just such an exchange. But look what I gathered in two calls!

  • The receptionist’s name at the main number (Shirley)
  • Where Operations is located (Building 5)
  • The receptionist’s name at Building 5 (Maria)
  • The name of the Head of Operations (Bob Jones)
  • His Administrative Assistant (Arleen)
  • The fact that most people in Operations don’t arrive “early”
  • The fact that Operations is probably located on an upper floor
  • One Ops report and his title — and one guy who does arrive early (Pete Miller)

Before you think, “Well, that’s not so much” — let me beg your pardon. I didn’t go on in the exchange where I press Maria for more information about the inhabitants of the Operations department and if you’d seen me do it you’d more than probably be amazed. It still amazes me today when these exchanges deliver so much information.

The sourcing “trick” here is really no trick at all — it’s the willingness on the part of the sourcer to set each job up methodically and to “walk the grid” on each and every target in a search. It’s time-consuming and this is the real fly-in-the-ointment for many. It’s another reason why sourcing is a separate and entirely different function from recruiting. I see sourcing as creating a bridge between recruiting and marketing in the sense that so much competitive intelligence is uncovered in any one search that this information deserves its own unique conduit for utilization. Walk that grid when you’re thinking about setting up your own sourcing departments!

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