Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What Ever Happened To Corporate Loyalty

Years ago, when the ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves had lost Volvo, Marvin Sloves called me to ask me if I could take care of one of his long-term account people.  The person had been with them for almost his entire career.  Marvin was worried that there might not be a place for him at the agency if they did not replace the account immediately. He told me that he would protect him for as long as he could.  Now that is loyalty. (And he kept this account person there for about 18 months until the employee found a new job.)

Where is loyalty today?

I just interviewed a woman who had spent 19 years with a company and lasted there through four mergers.  That is a pretty good run, to be sure.  The fifth merger just happened and they finally got her.  It only took one week after the merger was complete – not even enough time for her to meet the new management or to be evaluated.  She was just a line on an accounting form.  It wasn’t as if they were closing the office.  It was merely that the acquiring company replaced her with its own people, regardless of client consequences.  Her old company made no effort to explain or to apologize.  They never even talked to her (or her clients, for that matter).

That is callous.

Sadly, it is not unusual in this climate of mergers and acquisitions.  Past good deeds are quickly forgotten, if they are remembered at all.  There aren’t many like Marvin Sloves, who actually take care of their people when an account is lost or in a merger.  I used to get lots of emails and letters from senior managers when someone had to be let go.  Those emails always enclosed a resume and said something nice about the people. They also asked me to help those people get a job. I don't see these kinds of letters much any more.  I think part of it is that people being let go is the norm, not the exception.

The result of the lack of loyalty is that the second there is a rumor about a merger, acquisition, account loss or, even a poor quarterly performance, résumés hit the street.  As well they should, because there is no sense that if the worst happens, the company will be loyal.  And, as a result, companies no longer expect loyalty from employees. 

I remember my dad telling me, when he sold his agency, that he was most concerned about the “lifers” who had worked for him, especially in support roles. He made a handshake agreement to protect as many as possible and was furious when the people who took over his business did not keep their word. That was in the early 1970’s, and he warned me way back then that business was changing. 

When I was an account person, it never occurred to me that I might be fired if my agency lost an account.  It just wasn’t part of my employee psyche.  Today, it is something that every employee lives with, no matter how senior or junior, no matter how well they have performed.

And it isn’t just advertising.  It is something that pervades the entire economy.  That is truly a pity.  It is an essential change in the way all companies do business.  

I guess we have come full circle. I remember seeing old movies where in the 19th century, people joined a company and stayed for life. Today, companies hope an employee will stay two years. And employees hope the company will allow them to stay just as long.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure of a job is 4.4 years.  I am sure that among advertising and marketing executives it is far less.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Beware Of The Company Which Only Hires "A" Players

This was advice given to me by a person I once worked for.  He went on to say, the problem with “A” players is that they may be great, smart and strategic, but are rarely doers and a company always needs someone to do the work and get it out. "A" players, as defined here, are those top tier players who are aggressive, upwardly mobile and exude the fact that they will be successful, no matter what; mostly, they are thinkers and doers only of those things which appeal to them and will advance their careers.

Here’s the back story.

There were four account supervisors working on a major package goods account.  I was one of them.  Two of the others were really smart and aggressive and were, like me, very much a star.  The other one was ”steady Eddie.” (He was unexciting, and rather like a drone, but would show up during a blizzard, stay late, rarely entertained clients and was the group historian; everyone liked him and he could always be relied on to get the work out.) I got promoted to what was then a Management Supervisor; the three account supervisors had to report to me.  I knew that the two stars began looking for new jobs since they were passed over (I couldn’t blame them).

About six or eight weeks later, the client cut back budgets and, as a consequence, I was asked to think about which supervisor I would let go (Yes, those were the days when the account group actually managed its accounts and the people in them.).  I spent an anguished weekend trying to figure out what to do. I decided to keep the stars and let go of the drone. My boss said that I had chosen the exact wrong person.  This was an account which required a lot of tedious work and Eddie did it with a smile.  My boss pointed out that, when the time came, with careful screening, I could replace either of the stars with another potential star.  

So I let one of the stars go and, sure enough, six weeks later the second one left on his own. I needed to hire; and my boss was absolutely right.  I told human resources who and what I was looking for and saw a number of qualified candidates - all "A" players.  Over the years, when someone like Eddie needed to be replaced, it was actually a much harder search.    

I lost track of Eddie, but as a recruiter, I meet many like him.  Most often, clients ask us to find a potential star (clients will rarely give me a job spec that is for anything less than an "A" player).  But people like Eddie get hired all the time by hiring managers who have previously worked with them or who are really looking for someone they can trust and rely on to get work out.  I wrote about this a while ago in a post entitled, “The best job specs I ever had.” (If only companies would be honest with us and with themselves.)

Why is it that most job specs require us to find a finding a star?  We have even gotten this spec on the most tedious of retail jobs. Part of the answer is that asking us to find a star feeds corporate ego. Everyone wants to hire a winner.  (And, it is always good to be able to tell a client that the person who is being hired is a star.)  Companies love to be able to tell a prospective employee that he or she will be surrounded by exceptional people.

As you may expect, with the sole exception of the person I wrote about, referenced above, I have never gotten a job spec for a “doer.”  Yet plenty of them get hired. And, at the end of the day, someone has to get the work done.  Companies need to assess their needs in an honest way to insure that they can get accounts and service them properly.

Over the years we have seen really good ad agencies lose accounts where they appeared to have been doing great work.  While not said publicly, I often find out that the agency did a great campaign but couldn’t get out the day-to-day stuff – trade ads, price ads, dealer or local ads, etc.  They also couldn’t fulfill the daily requests for minor things, which end up being really important or they become a thorn in the side of the agency.  Those lapses drove the clients crazy and ultimately cost the agency the account.

None of this is to say that the people getting the work out shouldn't be top-rate and excellent at what they do. But what it does mean is that everyone doesn't have to be the president.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why Companies Don't Give Interview Feedback And What Happens As A Result

This post is in honor of the multitude of candidates who go on interviews either through recruiters, networking or job boards and are incredulous that they cannot get feedback on their interviews.  All too often, the interview ends positively with a promise of further meetings, but the candidate  then hears nothing. The experience just goes into a black hole.  

I cannot speak about other industries, but in advertising, this situation is all too prevalent. 

One of my pet peeves – actually all recruiters and HR professionals – is not receiving feedback after a candidate interviews. Some companies look at giving feedback as a nuisance. I once actually had a client tell me that the trouble with recruiters is that they want feedback.  What she didn't realize is that in failing to provide this information, she ended up costing herself more interview time as well as leaving candidates with a poor opinion of the company.  This is especially important when the jobs specs are vague, which is often.

Sometimes when we get feedback it is unspecific.  This is also useless.  We recently got an email after a candidate had had multiple interviews, saying that the company was “lukewarm” on the candidate.  I had no idea what that meant or how to interpret it, especially since he had been through a couple of interviews.  That kind of non-specific comment doesn’t help us, the company or the candidate.  

When professionals are told that a candidate has too much of this and too little of that, we are able to look more efficiently and effectively for additional candidates.  (I have cancelled future interviews of candidates when I have discovered that they would be wrong for a job based on feedback from someone's previous interview. Sending them would be a waste of their time and the company’s time.)  Feedback also gives us additional insight into candidates; after all, another opinion of a person is a good thing for us to have.

So why don’t people give feedback?

I am guessing that very often, the first level of hiring manager or human resources schedules multiple interviews and decides to wait until all people are seen. They would prefer to give simple feedback, like, “Let’s proceed with candidates number 1 and 3.”  But that provides no insight or direction into what is right about the two chosen candidates or what was wrong with number 2; it may well be that the HR professional or a recruiter has other candidates and some may be better qualified, but without the feedback and comparison to the other interviewees (even if we don't know them), it gives us no concrete direction and doesn’t allow us to move forward on their behalf.  Sadly, the manager thinks that he or she is being more efficient.

Another reason people don’t give feedback is that they are so busy that they cannot or will not spend the few minutes to provide insight into their interviews. And if there is no HR person or other middleman involved who can push them into being specific, the interview may just go into a black hole.  They just don’t want to spend the time.  Of course as a result of that, candidates spread the bad word that the company or the person is rude.  Every interviewer’s job is to create positive public relations for their firm. Getting no results after an interview drives candidates crazy.

A third reason hiring managers may not give feedback, is that they are not trained interviewers and simply don’t know what to say. They will interview until their gut tells them a candidate is right and simply accept that candidate, forgetting about the others.  To avoid this problem, all companies should teach their people how to interview (I have given many seminars on this subject). I would also recommend that a company create a feedback form which should be sent back to HR and passed back to recruiters, if appropriate.  It could make the process actually go faster and smoother.

There is a fourth reason.  Sometimes candidates screw up interviews.  But without telling us or them, whatever the problem is or was, we cannot help unless we can identify the problem.  I have never understood why companies are reluctant to give their recruiters bad news.

As mentioned, one of the jobs of a recruiter is to create positive public relations for their clients. Mostly, when I can tell my candidates the feedback, they agree with the truth.  And since I believe in telling my candidates the truth, they are appreciative.  That is far better PR than when we hear nothing.

Sometimes we hear nothing because the human resources person we are dealing with has been unable to obtain feedback from the person who did the interviewing.  When that happens, it is better to tell us or the candidate.  At least it is something.

Everyone who spends time interviewing can and should be able to learn from the experience.
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