Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nine Correctable Reasons Why HR Gets Poor Marks

There are really good people in human resources. And they all too often get a bum wrap.  Often, it is because of lack of training and often it is because they are given far too much to do. 

So many of these problems are easily correctable, but management must be committed to doing so and provide the necessary resources.

1)    Most HR people are totally untrained
Companies often assign or promote favored executives to the HR department as a reward and promotion for loyalty or good work.  Unfortunately, many of these people are untrained and remain so.\

There are a few HR people who have gone on to become SPHR (Senior Professional in   Human Resources) or higher, which requires several years of study to complete; companies should be encouraging its valued HR people to do further study.  However, in fairness, some of the best HR Directors I have met have had no serious training but they  "get" it. Unfortunately, they are in the minority..

2)    Many companies wrongly define HR primarily as recruiting
There is a lot more to Human Resources than finding and hiring people.  Certainly this is true of advertising. Many agencies, in an effort to upgrade, have hired qualified professionals from other industries to run the department, only to bog them down and saddle them with recruiting assignments. The result is that there is no real upgrade.  And qualified HR people spend the bulk of their time interviewing rather than their other important work.

3)    Most advertising agencies don’t grant HR a seat at the management table
Because there is more to HR than just recruiting, human resources should be an integral part of management, but rarely is.  There are aspects of HR which are mostly ignored or undervalued – succession planning, training, employee incentives and retention, conflict resolution, sensitivity training – are just a few areas which every firm should pay attention to.
4)    Employees are afraid to go to HR with problems
There is huge distrust among employees when it comes to human resources.  This has happened because all too often when there is a complaint about another employee, whether supervisor or subordinate, the issue is not handled confidentially or professionally and it turns into a confrontation or worse.  HR needs to be trained in conflict resolution.  This is also true when an employee has an issue with a company policy.

5)    Human Resources often gets saddled with all the extraneous jobs
HR is often given assignments by management which have little to do with their real jobs.  They often handle things like moves, blood drives, filling seats at events, the baseball team, company outings, holiday parties, office tours, time-sheet management, all of which take away from their real job and actually detract from their own reputation.

6)    All too often, HR actually is not fully conversant with the company’s products or culture.
As harsh as that is, too many human resources professionals join a company and receive no training or real orientation about the company.  For instance, it is not uncommon to find HR contract recruiters at a company who have never seen their products manufactured, have actually not met the people they are recruiting for and have never been properly inculcated into the company culture.  This is true in and out of advertising.  Few ad agency recruiters or other HR people have ever actually seen the agency’s creative work or new business presentation, so they never truly have a feeling for the culture or the product. At ad agencies, few HR people have actually spent time observing account people, planners, creative people and others who do the work so that they fully understand how to recruit for these people.
7)    Few HR managers are empowered to monitor and manage rotations and salary reviews
Over the years, I have interviewed hundreds of executives who are overdue for a salary increase or promotion, but have gotten caught in the cycle of new managers who don’t know them well enough to recommend timely raises or advancement.  That should be when HR is allowed to step in and manage the process, but it rarely happens.  It breeds resentment and the feeling that HR is impotent.

8)    In large companies, many employees don’t know who to contact if there is an issue 
HR professionals should be assigned to manage people.  Just like most companies have a benefits person or a payroll person in the HR department, there should be people in HR assigned to each employee as ombudsmen so that employees know who is looking out for them or managing their career.

9)    When important information is learned during exit interviews, it is rarely acted upon
One HR person confessed to me that she knew who all the problem employees were, but, “What can I do? Most of those people are senior vice presidents and higher”. Departing employees, although disconnected, can give wonderful perspective on issues within a company learned during exit interviews.  HR people should be empowered to act on that information.

I wrote about this a few years ago in a post called “What’s Wrong With HR”.  Today’s post is intended to put the issues into perspective.  If management fully values and backs its Human Resources Department and lets them do what they are supposed to do, I truly believe employee retention will increase along with company profits.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why Recruiters Need Salary Information

Salary information and history is necessary for a recruiter to know.  While there are many cases where people are overpaid and even more people are underpaid, this information helps put a career in perspective.

Last week I received an anonymous comment that lying was permissible and that salary information was misused by recruiters in order to keep salaries within limits. Several weeks ago I read an article saying that recruiters should not be asking for this information.  Two things I would like to say off the bat, first lying is never permissible. Period.  And, second, recruiters are paid by clients to find people who are within their salary budget.

 I thought I would write both why it doesn’t pay to lie and how this information should be used.
There are plenty of employees, especially those who have been at a company too long, who are underpaid.  Strong candidates acknowledge that fact and make it clear that they will not accept a low salary which is not commensurate with their experience. 

A good recruiter, especially one who specializes in an industry, can put your salary in perspective.  I have never had a candidate rejected for making too little; if a recruiter has a good relationship with his or her client they should be able to get you an interview.

I have had many candidates rejected for making too much.  I have posted many times about not taking a lower salary; it rarely works.  The exception is among juniors who move for an opportunity.  I had a candidate who was an account executive on an airline account who took both a cut in pay and title to work on a major package goods brand.  It made sense for her to do so given her career objectives.  That move paid off quite handsomely. 

An experienced interviewer can generally get a very good sense of where an interviewee is salary-wise after just a few minutes of them talking about themselves.  I rarely ask the salary question at the beginning of an interview; giving the interview time to develop helps to assess where the candidate is or should be.  I can then figure out what the candidate is or should be making before I am told.  Of course, there is a range and nothing is absolute.

There are circumstances where jobs call for higher salaries.  Sometimes, when companies are about to lose business, they give raises in an effort to keep employees.  Sometimes, circumstances on a piece of business are such that they pay above the going rate – a good example was when Messner, Vetere, Berger, McNamee and Schmetterer (MVBMS) had to over-pay to keep people on the MCI account, which required people working 18 hour days, often seven days a week.  Those inflated salaries do not necessarily mean that a candidate will or should get a significant raise in their next job. Be careful of jobs that pay too much; there is always a reason and it is very easy to become accustomed to a higher life-style.

A good recruiter will know how to assess and process salary information.  The anonymous commenter was obviously angry about his or her own salary history.  But generally, they have to look at themselves, not others, in order to assess why they are underpaid.  There are, in fact companies which are known to underpay.  I know of one ad agency which likes to hire very senior people who are long out of work and pay them only a small percentage of what they were previously making.  The low pay comes with a promise of a big bonus, but that bonus rarely comes or when it comes it is a small amount of what was promised, always with an excuse.  But again, a good recruiter knows which agencies and companies do this to employees.  No need to lie to them. And they shouldn’t lie to you. 

I have heard it said that recruiters only use salary information to insure that a candidate fits within the specified salary range. Clients demand that recruiters do this. But, frankly, I have rarely had a qualified candidate turned down for being a few thousand dollars high or low.  In most cases these candidates receive a fair offer, sometimes somewhat above the original specs.  I tell candidates that if they are low-balled by the client company, they should just turn the job down.

Maybe the best reason to tell the truth about salary is that if you see a recruiter about a specific job and do not get it or are not qualified for any number of reasons, the recruiter needs to know your salary so that they can call you when an appropriate job comes in within an appropriate salary range.  These days where every recruiter has a recruiting software program, they must put in a salary or your name will not come up on a search, because all computer searches are constrained by likely salary.

Saying that salary information is unnecessary is naïve and short-sighted.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Six Common Lies People Tell Recruiters

Every recruiter knows that they will hear certain lies or at least exaggerations when they meet most candidates.

1)    I am not actually looking
When I call candidates, I often hear this phrase.  But I also know that if someone agrees to come see me, they are not only interested, but they are indeed “looking”.  After all, they have agreed to come see a recruiter.

2)    I am in no hurry
I hear this constantly. It is often amusing, especially, if the people come to see me a day or two after they are contacted.  Or they call or email me for a status report almost every week. Actions speak louder than words.

3)    Things are good here
I often hear this from candidates who are about to be fired or whose accounts are about to go into review.  For some reason they think a recruiter will work harder for them if they tell this lie.

4)    I am only interested in….
When I was first recruiting, I learned almost immediately that candidates will tell a recruiter what they will or won’t do or where they will or won’t go.  They frequently do the opposite.

5)    Money isn’t as important as opportunity
I have seen hundreds of candidates who do just the opposite and take the first job that offers them what they believe is an appropriate salary.  Often these are dead-end, career-killer jobs and that is why they pay well.

6)    My current salary is….
It is an unwritten law that salaries get exaggerated.  Recruiters often accept the statement without question. Candidates often include (possible) bonus into their salary; bonuses are always discretionary and are often not paid in full, no matter how stable the company.  In the long run, we often discover during the process that the salary given is a lie.  In fact, the truth almost always comes out.

Years ago, on the television series, “L.A. Law”, the Jimmy Smits character is counseling a person who is about to testify. He tells him or her (I can’t remember which), “Tell the truth.  You will never get into trouble during cross examination.”  Or as Judge Judy (I am addicted to her) wisely puts it, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory.)

When people lie or exaggerate, the tendency is to tell different people different things and it becomes impossible to remember who you told what.

Good recruiters can handle the truth.  If you think your job is in jeopardy, they may be able to help you deal with it. If you think you are being paid too little, they can help you handle it.  If you are looking because you need money, say so (the best I ever heard was one gentleman who told me that he did not have enough money in the bank and his daughter was entering college in a few months).

It is not an embarrassment to be underpaid, it is common for the best of executives to run into roadblocks.  Even good and effective presidents get fired. Telling the truth can only help you.
If you do not trust your recruiter, find another.  A good recruiter can be your best ally.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Adventures In Advertising: The Story Of How One Executive Inexplicably Self-Destructed By Insulting A Client

A few weeks ago, in one of my posts, I told the story about working for an abusive advertising executive who ultimately self-destructed.  I thought the story of how he committed hari kari was worth telling.  It is a jaw-dropping story.

I once worked for a brilliant ad executive.  He may have been the smartest man I ever met in the business.  I will call him Alan.  Alan was a bully.  But he and I got along.  I was an account supervisor on the Helena Rubenstein Cosmetics account, Alan was my boss. We worked at Kenyon & Eckhardt, now part of IPG.

Rubenstein was a troubled business with mostly superior products. The brand was in desperate need of being refreshed.  I spent six months working on a repositioning for them.  I presented it internally and it was accepted without change.  Leo-Arthur Kelmenson, then the President of the agency, called the client to arrange for me to present to them.  It was an important meeting for both the agency and the client.

The meeting was attended by every single major executive at Rubenstein.  Leo-Arthur even invited Oscar Kolin, who was Helena Rubenstein’s nephew and Chairman of the company (Mr. Kolin was invited because Leo thought the presentation was so good and so important that he should be involved).  Leo also invited Mala Rubenstein, Oscar’s sister and Vice President of Creative Services and while she was rarely involved with advertising, he thought she should attend.  The other HR executives who were there included the President, EVP and all the marketing people.

I can honestly say it was the best presentation I had ever made.  When it was over I received a unanimous standing applause except two people – Oscar and Mala.  The comments and questions around the room were intelligent and appropriate. I knew that they had bought my ideas and strategy.  Then, Mr. Kolin spoke.  He asked a question, speaking in his heavy Polish-American accent.  Now you have to understand who he was.  He was in his late seventies. He was exceedingly proper and immaculately well dressed with a carnation in his lapel.  He was unmistakably very old world.  He was a gentleman to the core and was Mr. Kolin to everyone, not Oscar. His was actually retired from the cosmetics company but was still chairman; his primary function was to run the Helena Rubenstein Foundation and he was treated with respect by everyone.  And as an effective executive, in terms of the cosmetics business, he was absolutely harmless and always a gentleman.

However, his question, asked in his almost broken English, stopped the room cold.  It was clear that he had not understood one word of the presentation.  The room became silent. I had no idea how to respond, neither did anyone else.  The truth is that one of the operating company executives should have responded.  Instead,  it was left up to the agency. I had no idea what to say but, fortunately Alan looked up and said, “Let me answer that”.

Now, Alan was brilliant, but he also had a mouth that could cut glass. And no one had a clue as what he would say to answer Mr. Kolin's comment.  Everyone held their breath.

What came next was mystifying to this day. Alan looked at Mr. Kolin and said: “I will respond to your question, but first I have to say, Oscar, the issue is, that after all these years, you still do not understand English…”  Everyone gasped and then there was silence. Well, you could have cut the silence in the room with a dull knife. Leo-Arthur somehow immediately somehow cut Alan off.

The meeting was clearly over.

While still in the conference room, the President of Rubenstein told me I had done a great job and brought the meeting to a close saying that they would get back to us (they did and my plan was approved; unfortunately, three months later the company was sold to Colgate. I have always thought that if Colgate had followed my direction, Rubenstein would still be in business in the United States.) 

As we were getting up to leave, Leo-Arthur asked Alan to walk back to the office with him. 
Twenty minutes later I was sitting in my office and Leo-Arthur walked in and congratulated me on the presentation and my promotion to Management Supervisor. 

Alan had been let go.

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