Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Ideal Job Candidate

When I posted a couple of weeks ago about a candidate who was uncooperative, I received an anonymous comment that I should post about an ideal candidate as an object lesson for other people. And while I responded that there is no such thing as an ideal candidate, it is a very good idea for a post.  Thanks, Anonymous.

The best candidates for every job have certain traits in common.  They exude a love and enthusiasm for what they do.  They exude self-confidence (not to be mistaken as arrogance).  They have a genuine passion for what they do..  They are leaders and can demonstrate their ability to get people to follow them.  There are many more traits for great candidates but, for the most part, these traits cannot be learned; they are inherent in a person’s personality.

However, unfortunately, there is no such person as an ideal candidate.  One size does not fit all. 

Every job is different.  Every company is different.  A person who is right for a job at one company may be wrong for the same or similar job at a different company.  This by reason of background, interest, passion.  And a person who is ideal for one job at a company may be all wrong for another spot, even in the same group.  It is the reason why it takes weeks, sometimes months to fill a job.  Finding the right person is rarely an easy job.

Once upon a time in advertising, one could identify traits common with employees at certain ad agencies.  There were agencies which were strong in strategy, there were agencies where creative dominated.  There were agencies where media triumphed.  There were people who, when interviewed, exuded a certain aura which enabled a good recruiter to know where they should or should not be.  For instance, pre-TBWA, there was an ideal person for Chiat/Day; that person, no matter what his or her discipline (account, creative, media, planning), exuded passion for the business and an absolute belief that successful advertising was dependent on great creative work.  This was also true of those who worked at other creative agencies – Wells, Rich, Greene; Scali, McCabe, Sloves; Levine, Huntley Schmidt and Beaver; Goodby, Silverstein and many, many others.  In fact, there was a good deal of employee exchange among these shops.  I remember that there was a time when Deutsch had to make a deal with Kirschenbaum & Bond to stop poaching from each other because there were so many executive moves between these two agencies.

There were highly strategic-driven executives who could work at Ted Bates, Grey or J. Walter Thompson.  There was considerable movement from one to another.  But all these agencies are now mostly gone or have changed considerably. There were many agencies that were balanced between creative and strategy; Ogilvy & Mather was one.  

But now, for the most part, the big agencies have become homogenized by the holding companies through mergers.

The point is that up until about a decade or two ago, agencies had distinct personalities.  Those distinctions were the result of their unique cultures and management.  But, to use the term again, the holding companies have merged and submerged and homogenized their agencies to the point where one big agency is pretty much like another.  This is less true for smaller, independent shops, which tend to have maintained their distinct cultures.

Today, most large agencies hire first for their accounts and only secondarily for their agency.  Sure, there is a culture check for candidates, but it is less important than the account they are being hired for.  For instance, the ideal account person at Publicis on the Citi business is probably a very different person than the executive who would work on Swiffer. In fact, because Citibank/Citicorp is so huge, the person who works on the brokerage/investment part of the account is probably very different than the person working on corporate or retail.  And the person who works on Swiffer (P&G) may be very different than the person who works on Crest or Vicks or Bounty, all P&G.  They may share some common attributes like confidence and passion, but they may be different by training, experience and temperament. 

It also means that the culture of most of the big agencies is more muddled.  Per my examples above, there are just too many personality types within many of the large agencies for the culture to be consistent.  Every agency now says it has strengths in both creative and in strategy.  In fact, not surprising, agencies tend to try to be all things to all clients, which is why there is no such thing as an ideal candidate; someone who is right for one account may be totally wrong for another.

When I was an account guy, I loved working on different businesses.  At every agency I worked for, I was rotated on to multiple businesses over the course of a couple of years. My strength was that I was a problem solver. Unfortunately, I am afraid that is happening less and less today.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What to Do If You Get A Negative Performance Review You Did Not Expect or Agree With

In September of 2016 I wrote about what performance reviews are and are not.  I have received numerous emails asking me to expand on this subject, especially if you believe that a negative review is untrue.

I have heard many stories about executives receiving untrue negative reviews.  This is often the precursor to being let go. Companies actually do this to protect themselves from a lawsuit should they terminate an employee - in essence, they are building a case for termination for cause.  Beware of a review which is completely out of line with previous evaluations or your own expectations.  However, should this happen to you, here is what you must do.  It is imperative to take these steps in order to keep your options open and protect yourself.

To quote my previous post: 

"While I am not a lawyer and this should not be construed as legal advice, if one is given a poor review, it should not be signed other than to note that you saw and heard the review but that you do not agree with it; this disagreement should be written right on the review and a copy made and kept. If one disagrees with it, you must write a letter/memo/email and detail your disagreement.  

"Beware that otherwise high performing employees are given a perfunctory and negative review in preparation to their being let go. This often happens not for reasons of performance but because the company may be anticipating cut-backs due to poor business or account loss [or, possibly a sale].  This frequently happens with tenured employees who may have contracts, but it is not limited to just them. The company can use poor performance as an excuse for termination and for not providing severance or other benefits. Should you find out that previously positive performance is suddenly in question, you must be prepared for a termination."

Detailing your disagreement is essential for your protection.  Among other things, it puts the company on notice that you will not easily accept a termination, should it come.  The simple act of disagreeing in writing could save your job since few companies want to be sued or have a legal dispute, despite the fact that they are richer and more capable of defending a suit than you are to actually engage in legal representation.  It could also put you in a better position to negotiate.

Should you disagree with the review and sign any document saying so, you should also get the person with whom you expressed your disagreement, to sign a copy. This, so that the company cannot say that they never knew you disagreed with the review.  If you send your disagreement via email, you must get a “read” copy (not just delivered) for your files.  If you do not receive such a document – sometimes companies just ignore the communication – send another with a different subject.  Your paper trail could be very important.

However, if you get an unexpected negative review, no matter how unjustified it may be, take it as a message.  You should get your résumé up to date and start the process of looking for a job. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Adventures In Advertising: How To Blow A New Business Pitch Before It Starts

Every advertising person has stories about how their agencies have blown new business pitches, often because someone said or did something stupid.  There is a classic story about an agency which pitched a car account but not one person showed up at the client’s office driving the client’s brand.  There is another story of an agency pitching a watch account, but the president showed up wearing a Rolex.  

(I would love to collect your stories if you can top the one that follows.  I know a lot of them are funny in the telling.)  

When new business prospects come to visit a prospective agency, they can always sense and feel whether there is good chemistry among the agency participants.  In many cases, even agency principals who do not like each other, are able to hide their antipathy towards each other.  

Not this one.

A mid-size shop that had a history of good work was pitching a food manufacturer which had allowed its agencies to do excellent creative.  The account is one that would have been perfect for this particular agency.  The agency had been trying to get this client in for a very long time. They finally got the client to come in to the agency.  The first meeting was a credentials presentation and was attended by seven people – two from the client, the agency president, the agency chairman (a co-creative director), the vice chairman (also a CD), the head of account management and the head of strategy.  The agency had rehearsed the pitch well.

The meeting was intentionally informal with everyone casually sitting around a conference room table; the entire meeting, including the seating, had been carefully orchestrated.  But, as things happen, early in the meeting, the client asked a particular question, the answer to which had not been rehearsed.  The president responded with a statement that had nothing to do with what had been rehearsed or what the agency wanted the client to know.  It was way off script.  To make matters worse, he talked and talked. The more he talked, the more the agency participants were shocked because this particular response actually killed the entire agency positioning and the remainder of the presentation.  No one knew what to say. And the president droned on and on. 

There was no recovering from this particular gaff.  In one way or another, everyone from the agency tried to get the president to shut up: one person subtly tugged on his pants to get him to stop, another made the cut sign, crossing his index finger across his throat. The president kept going.  Finally, the chairman had a solution.  The chairman was so flustered and angry that he picked up a pen and literally heaved it at the president, calling him an ass-hole, right in front of the client.  He, like everyone else in the room, knew that the pitch was dead. But it did shut up the president.

The two clients looked at each other and nodded.  With that, they got up and walked out.  The senior client made a great comment: “We appreciate an agency that can argue and disagree with each other.  But we cannot and will not work with people who obviously hate each other.”

End of story.  The entire meeting lasted only about ten minutes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

If Companies Want To Increase Profits And Lower Turnover, They May Have To Provide Counseling For Many Managers

There is a true saying, “People don’t leave companies, people leave managers.”  While a small percentage of junior executives do change jobs in order to obtain higher salaries, the majority of job hopping, at every level of seniority, occurs because people are managed badly.  The problem is that there are a lot of bad and abusive managers.

Often, bad managers are seen by their bosses as valuable employees and do a great job for their clients, but are horrible to their people.  If they are good at what they do and are poor managers they can and should be retrained in order to control and lower turnover under them.  Turnover is expensive.

I once worked for a notoriously abusive manager, who was a group head.  I knew it when I took the job. On my second day on the job he was dissatisfied with something I had done and came into my office and wagged his finger in my face while I was sitting at my desk.  I grabbed it.  I stood, while holding the offending finger, and told him that I would not tolerate having a finger shoved in my face.  For the next five years we got along well.  There was never another negative incident with me.

I watched him interact with others who worked both for and with him.  Most people accepted his antics, just mumbling under their breath.  Others, after a time, simply quit because they could not take his abuse and did not have the inclination to fight back.  Agency management knew about his behavior but did nothing about it.  It is a shame on two fronts.  First, because he caused talented and valuable people to leave and second, he was a brilliant advertising person who was heading towards self-destruction (in a few weeks I will post about how he self-destructed.).

Ad agency management puts up with bullies because they think they have to.  The excuse is that, “The client likes him [or her].”  That may be, but it is not an acceptable justification to accept bullying.  There are many advertising executives who are known to be “screamers”, some are abusers, and many of them are CEO’s and Chairmen.  However, titles are no excuse for bad behavior towards others.

There is no excuse for threatening, bullying, harassing, screaming or belittling employees.  There is a famous story of a well-known ad agency chairman who was in a client meeting with his staff.  During the meeting, for no apparent reason, he demanded that the most junior person in the room go out and shop for a bag of peanuts.  This young executive knew not to raise a question and went out to go shopping. When the person came back with the peanuts, the chairman opened the bag and threw several peanuts at each agency employee (not the client), and as he tossed out the nuts, he said to the client, “We have to feed the elephants and keep them happy.”  Everyone, including the clients, were appalled.  To their credit, two of his employees stood up and left the meeting; in fact they quit their jobs.  The HR Director tried to talk to the chairman, but was also fired.  To my mind, the entire agency should have left.  There is no justification for accepting this kind of behavior.

I can think of one agency which employed a notorious screamer.  He happened to be the general manager. I was constantly asked to fill the same jobs working for him, often multiple times within a year.  A new and very smart HR Director sent this manager for counseling.  It worked.  I always thought they put him on meds, but nevertheless, after a few weeks he became a model manager.  It was an inexpensive way to lower turnover and keep a valued employee.

All companies should offer counseling for valued employees who have management issues.
Sometimes I hear stories about more subtle abuse – managers who take other people’s ideas for their own (fairly common) or making all of their group employees stay late every night just in case they are needed for an emergency later in the evening; they are usually not needed.  Or managers who call, text or email employees during the weekend and demand that they leave their families and come to the office, often for no urgent reason.  This kind of behavior can and should be controlled through counseling or re-training. (Good for the French, who just passed a law making it illegal for firms with over 50 employees to email after hours.)

Ironically, even reluctant managers who receive counseling are usually thankful for it.

All companies should have management training for their employees; that training should include how to manage people. Since most of us learn from the people who managed us it is critical for companies to have exemplary managers.

Companies that ignore poor managers are costing themselves money because of avoidable turnover.

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