Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I Hate Wussy Managers

There is a saying in business that you should always put someone between you and the problem.  And while that is a good management principal in terms of solutions, it is not an excuse to have someone else do what you should be doing.  

I meet many people who have been terminated.  Most of these people tell me that the deed has been done by human resources or a creative manager, not by the person they reported to..  In many cases the people doing the termination were people not previously known.  I find that appalling. 

While terminating employees is never pleasant or easy, it should never be done by a stranger.  Yes, I know a lot of human resource people think it is there job and most managers don’t want to do this as part of their job either, so it gets delegated to HR.  But that does not make it right. I have met executives who have been terminated after ten years or longer working for the same person, but that person was too much of a wuss to do it themselves so they delegated the deed to a stranger. And, to make it worse, they then avoid the terminated person.  

Part of being a manager is to face up to the fact that all aspects of management are not pleasant.  But for goodness sakes, if someone works for you, the least you can do is have a personal conversation with them, even if that conversation is unpleasant.  It just comes with the territory of being a manager.

Now there are cases, and I have heard about many of them, where human resources does the deed even before the manager of the person being let go knows that the person working for them is being let go.  That is equally appalling.  When that happens, the company is being merely expeditious and not very caring.

Delegation of negative jobs is not limited to terminations.  It also happens with negative evaluations which are often delivered by HR rather than the true evaluator. 

It is acceptable for the manager and the human resources person to do this together, but barely.  I understand that sometimes this is done to insure that there is proper communications of the event.  However, I find two on one, although acceptable, to be unnecessary and unfair, especially if the person being told the bad news barely knows the HR person.

When I ran account management, I always took the position that if someone worked for me, they needed to be given bad news by me and not a stranger.

The sign of a leader is to accept the responsibility for what has to be done.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Be Careful Of Jobs That Overpay

                 100 Dollar Bills Stock Photo

Charles Revson, legendary founder of Revlon, had a method to his madness.  He would take a $75,000 executive and offer them $125,000 or more knowing that they would increase their lifestyle to that spending level.  He also knew that once that happened, he would own them.  They were then at his mercy.  He thought nothing of calling people at all hours of the night.  On Saturdays he would frequently call executives at home and demand that they come to a Sunday meeting, often at his home in Premium Point, New Rochelle   His attitude was that if you don’t come in tomorrow, don’t bother coming to work Monday because you will no longer be employed here.

That methodology still exists at many companies and even a few ad agencies. There is a reason why companies will overpay for certain jobs - jobs where long hours are the norm, jobs working for difficult supervisors or jobs working with difficult clients.  (As an aside, this is one of many reasons why employees should not compare their salaries or their jobs.) The decision to pay more than the going rate is often well thought out.  Ad agencies know that once someone accepts and stays in such a job, even for a short time, it will be difficult for that employee to leave. 

The other situation where this happens is when an overly aggressive candidate pushes themselves into higher and higher paying jobs, before they are really ready to perform at that level.  They are often in a race against themselves and their friends and acquaintances.

Over the years I have dealt with many aggressive account people who have pushed themselves, often getting way ahead of where they should be.  I remember an account executive who lied about her salary and may have exaggerated her experience.  She took an account supervisor job, but came to blows with her account director because she could not perform at the level that was expected of her salary.  She was let go and was out of work for a long time. I am sure her supervisor told people that she was incompetent and that hindered her ability to get work.  It wasn’t that she was incompetent, quite the contrary, she just got ahead of herself and lacked the experience to handle the responsibilities that came with her level.  Unfortunately, when she finally took a new job, she repeated her mistake.  Again, she was fired.  She ended up leaving the business.  In this case, two strikes and she was out.  It is a very common occurrence.

Back in the late 1999, when agencies were flying, a $45k account executive was hired as a $65k supervisor.  I told the HR manager that they did not have to pay this much, but her attitude was that they really liked the candidate and did not want to get into a counter-offer bidding war.  Bidding for good candidates was very common back then.  Unfortunately, when business turned slow, she was the first casualty because she could not perform at the level for which she was hired. 

I am afraid that just the other week I made an account person very angry when I told her I could not represent her. She was only three years in the business but swears she is making a base of $60k and received a 50% bonus (she offered to send me a copy of her pay stubs).  I believe her and I also believe that in her case she is very competent and probably worth the money to her current employer, but she is just making too much money for her time in the business.  She is now looking for an $80,000 – $100,000 job..  Advertising unfortunately rarely pays people that kind of money for so little experience.  She is working at a difficult agency on a notoriously troubled and demanding account and her client likes her, which is apparently rare for that client.  It is in the employer's interest that she stay. I am sure that her employer took a calculated risk when giving a $25,000 bonus.  He knows she cannot go anywhere. 

Now this candidate is in a very difficult position.  I know that my clients would not pay what she is looking for so it would be a waste of time both for the company and the candidate.  Her current employer has basically trapped her and until her experience catches up with her salary or she decides to move laterally, she is pretty much stuck.

The point to all this is if someone offers you a lot of money, you have to find out why and what it means. There is generally a reason why the job is paying over market.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Playing Golf With The Client: An Essential Part Of Business

Now that the summer is upon us, I thought this was an appropriate posting.

                                           golfing photo: Siedel\'s Golfing 382194977_l.jpg

I just interviewed a young account supervisor.  She was fabulous.  She was not actively looking for a job (the best time to see me).  She liked her account and she liked her agency, but had been told by a friend to meet me for the future.   People like her are my favorite people to interview.

In the course of our conversation she had one negative thing to say about her account and the people she works with.  She works on a major international account with a number of brands and divisions.  She thought that her Group Account Director (an EVP) did not work very hard; after all, he went skiing in the winter with clients and went golfing during the rest of the year, often taking a day or two off to do so.  She told me that her clients loved this account director, but she couldn’t understand why. After all, she reasoned, he hardly worked. (By the way, she had no issues with his contributions while in the office.)

I explained to her that golf is work.  I could tell from the look on her face that she did not comprehend and disagreed.  I asked her if she ever had lunch with her client, who happens to be here in NYC.  She told me that once or twice a year, generally after presentations, the agency took a large group to lunch or dinner.  I explained that that is not really dining with the client and that she should go out of her way to meet the client, one-on-one..

The whole notion of entertaining and getting to know a client on a personal level is foreign to her.  It never occurred to her and it had not apparently occurred to the account director she worked for, who feels the same way. 

I asked her if she watched Mad Men and she did sometimes but believed that the drinking and entertaining it portrayed was only Hollywood and television.

Entertaining clients is  unfortunately an art that is being lost.  But it is an essential part of business.  Getting a client to know you as a person and to like you goes a long way towards building the credibility and trust necessary garner respect and to sell good work.  It is also essential to learning the business.  Clients are much more likely to take you into their confidence when they are relaxed and out of the office.

Is golf, or tennis, or skiing, or theater or dinner relaxing?  You bet.  Is it good for business? Absolutely. But, don’t kid yourself, when it is with client’s, it is work also.

I cannot tell you how many times I hear of accounts being lost because the senior management of agencies didn’t really have relations with the senior management of their clients.  Entertaining is a proper and necessary way to do that – even the government recognizes that and gives tax deductions for entertaining.

I firmly believe that all agencies should encourage even their junior people to get to know their clients outside of business.  That goes for creatives, media and planners/researchers as well as account people.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What Is A Fair Severance Policy?

Sooner or later each of us will be faced with negotiating for severance.  It is a sad fact of life in business today.

Over the years, I have met employees from many different companies who have been downsized or otherwise terminated.  I have met employees who have left almost every advertising agency.  I have also met terminated employees from many, many different companies.  There is a huge difference between the way ad agencies end an employee’s term and the way most corporations do the same thing.

The difference between the two is that ad agencies are, for the most part pretty stingy.  Companies generally have decent severance packages which include, among other things, out placement services. Rarely do I hear from people from companies who say that their packages were not fair.  But people from ad agencies say just the opposite because ad agencies offer almost nothing.  If one is lucky enough to have a termination clause in their original letter of agreement/offer letter, severance may be better than normal “policy”.

Severance is not just salary and vacation. It also includes healthcare, outplacement, use of office and other elements, but to keep this post simple, I am only going to deal with salary issues.

Many agencies have a policy which calls for a week’s severance for every year of employment. These policies date back to decades ago when the economy and the business was different.  Once upon a time, the rule of thumb was that it used to be it would take one month to find a job for each $10,000 in salary.  In those days, that was probably a fair formula.  Today, given the high unemployment rate in the country, 7.6%, and given that it is probably higher in advertising, the rule of thumb is that it takes two or three months to find a job for each $10,000 in salary.

Somehow I think it is wrong for a person who has been employed by the same company for many years to simply be cast aside with a week a year.  That means that if you are somewhere for most of your career, say twenty years, you would get about five month’s severance.  Now I fully understand a week a year for the first couple of years, but someone who gives their all for a long period of time should not be cast aside with meager severance.  The problem is that the holding company agencies are so overly governed by rules that it is very difficult to get around them, although I have heard that it can be done, but not without hassle.

Every case is different and should not be governed by mere “policy.”  Following is a good example.

I recently met an account person who was sixteen years at one of the big agencies.  They transferred him around the country to various offices to handle troubled accounts.  They finally put him in an office that they knew was in big trouble; they transferred the account he had been running into that office to help stabilize it.  It was too little, too late for the office.  Since each office governs itself, once he was turned over to that office, he was in their jurisdiction.  The office was losing business and ultimately decided that his big salary was too much for them to bear, despite running a successful and profitable account.  Since the account was under contract, they figured they could safely replace him with a less expensive person.  He was downsized only a few months after he arrived at the office.  The headquarters office knew nothing about it, but even worse, would and could do nothing for him and allowed his severance to stand at one week a year.  They did not even want to pay his relocation back to New York.  I told him to get a lawyer.

Sticking to the corporate policy may be okay in many cases, but not all.  It certainly wasn’t in the above cited instance.  Someone beyond HR who actually knows the individual should be in charge of evaluating circumstances with the ability to make adjustments.  The answer that. “If we do it for one, we have to do it for all” is just wrong and unfair.

While the need for governing policy makes sense, there has to be common sense applied to those policies.  Suppose the person was in the job for forty years, an entire career.  Would it be fair to terminate him or her with less than a year’s payment after a whole life of employment?  Or how about the person who is recruited and chased by a company and hired away from a good and secure job and then six months later, because of account losses is terminated for financial reasons.  I have seen last in first out situations where the person is given only their accrued vacation time, patted on the head and said goodbye to.  I knew one person who started at the old Lintas two days after they lost Burger King on one of their package goods accounts.  He was terminated on day three of his employment with no apology and no severance despite taking him out of a perfectly good job.

The point is that every circumstance is different.  Every employee has a different story.  Each has to be looked at.  The rule of thumb should be fairness and not corporate convenience.  I know it is far more work, but we are dealing with human lives and careers so that an extra effort is called for.

The best severance is the one you negotiate before accepting an offer..
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