Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

"Strategy is overrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things". – Herb Kelleher

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The ‘Reverse’ Job Description: A Company’s Responsibility to Employees*

reversejob description tabhuman resource

There’s a “war for talent” out there. It’s an increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining talented employees, and companies talk the talk about how they are focusing on acquiring the best of the best. They call their HR people “Talent Directors”. Job description after job description describes their searches for “rock stars”, “gurus” and “ninjas”. And each job spec is chock full of the myriad incredible feats and accomplishments that each talented new hire has to achieve to be successful.

But so many new hires don’t stick – the data shows that almost half are gone within 18 months. And it’s not about skills – only 11% fail due to lack of skill, with the other 89% due to “attitudinal reasons”. With the high investment in time and money in recruiting, wouldn’t it makes sense for companies to make more of an effort to enhance stickiness and raise long-term success? The way I see it, every open role should have not just a job description, clearly iterating what is expected of the new employee, but would also have a “Reverse Job description”. That is, what are the required tasks of the company to ensure the success of the new employee.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Success is a collaborative thing, especially in today’s interconnected, matrixed, ‘new normal’ organizations. So I say that every critical role to be filled should have an equally important role for the organization and the leaders. Here’s what it would be made up of:

Build an on-ramp. Coming into a new organization is always hard – but nowadays, you’re expected to get moving at light-speed, stat. So it’s important to provide the tools, resources, and support to enable the new hire to merge into the fast lane as smoothly as possible. How can you provide support during the early days? Who and what are the right resources for each type of problem and opportunity? Where can he or she find the tools they might need? Anything that keeps a new employee feeling new and un-integrated keep him or her puttering along on the shoulder of the road.

Provide a pit crew. The most seasoned and successful race car drivers know they have a pit crew awaiting them whenever they need re-fueling, or if the dashboard is filling with warning lights. Well so should the greatest rock-star employee. A company should make sure there will be regular get-togethers to review the road behind and the road ahead. And expecting there will be some blow-outs and oil leaks is a pretty good idea, as well, since there will be.

Plan for some speed bumps. As I mentioned above, every journey has bumps in the road. Especially at work. In the best of circumstance, with as many knowns as possible, there are surprises that wreak momentary havoc on existing teams. But for the new employee, everything’s new and unknown – new partners, new clients, new dynamics, new culture. Do them a favor and set the expectations for some bumpy moments. Expecting perfection is never a good idea; but in these situations, it’s an absolute mistake.

Implement an instant network. I don’t care what level the candidate is, they’ll need some advisors and mentors. Sounding boards for problems and opportunities. Folks to look to when building their thinking. Or when the going gets tough. New employees don’t have instant credibility, respect or trust – so it’s important to provide a few internal contacts where they won’t have to immediately earn it. Each reverse job description should allocate several of these partners and comrades.

Provide a core of complementors. Generally, when hiring someone for your team, you are looking for one or two key skills. The skills and experience that are critical for the success the company is looking for. However, when placing this person into the organization and onto a team, there are likely some complementary skills that are required – skills that might not be immediately native to the new hire. So ensure you have embedded the complementary partners needed to help get past the initial growing pains.

Give some early cheers. No matter how talented and experienced the new employee is, the new situation will feel a bit alien. And without a sense of belonging, the new hire may find the honeymoon wearing off quickly. A little recognition can go a long way towards making new employees feel at home and part of an organization. Which leads to more success and longer tenure.

What do you think? Does this seem like too much to ask from a company? Should an employee’s success be all up to them?

*Originally published in TalentZoo 9/2/15

THINK small – Big ideas only work when you also think small

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A Plea For Some In-efficiency – Too much efficiency can be a bad thing

No matter where you look, you will find hundreds of pundits, management consultants, business gurus and organizational experts all singing the praise of efficiency. Efficiency will lead to greater business productivity; it helps you trump your competition; it optimizes margins. Increasing your efficiency reduces waste and puts your resources to work delivering on your goals. It gives you more, for less. Efficiency is worshipped – it’s become the end-all and be-all.

But here’s the problem – efficiency is not an end, in and of itself. Because efficiency doesn’t solve problems, efficiency doesn’t generate creative ideas or innovations, efficiency doesn’t create passion. And efficiency can’t be rallied around. In fact, efficiency doesn’t serve your business purpose; it’s only one tool to help enable it.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can have too much efficiency. In-efficiency is not always wasteful. In fact, there are lots of reasons that the obsession with efficiency can be counter-productive.

You can miss the opportunity of seeing things in a new way. By definition, efficiency is all about routinizing processes, simplifying and making behaviors predictable and repeatable. You work to find the most efficient route, and do it the same way each time. But this can get, well, routine. And predictable. And boring. Just like on your commute, every now and then you need to take the long way home – and see a new view and a fresh perspective.  In fact, the best views tend to be off the beaten path.

And that’s just it – if you’re busy making behaviors the same each time, you have a hard time being open to innovation and new approaches. You get stuck in patterns. And you can get restricted by the process and the time you’ve allotted for each step. So a super-efficient structure can become an innovation-inhibitor.

You may stop focusing on what really matters – doing great work. When the focus becomes efficiency, the work itself can become secondary. It becomes less important how great the work is than that it’s done, quickly. An extra bit of time to re-think, edit, round out or build upon your thinking? Nope, not allowed. It’s a “get it done and move on” mind-set.

But ideas and creativity don’t always work on a schedule. Sometimes, you simply need to walk off the pre-determined course and put on some additional mileage. Efficiency won’t allow it, but great work demands it, sometimes.

Your focus is overly internal. One thing about focusing on efficiency – you spend much of your time with your head down, focusing on your own work. This helps you keep track of who is doing what, for how long, etc. But it doesn’t do a lot for your inspiration. Instead of keeping your head down at all times, lift it up and spend some time looking outside of your work and business. Go out for lunch, meet with new colleagues and partners, take a walk. And read lots about your industry, as well as outside of it, for inspiration.

Efficiency lacks emotion. Efficiency is logical. “We accomplished this much work in this much time.” “We can cut steps in the process here.” “The schedule can be compressed in this fashion.” But most great work is emotional. And efficiency doesn’t always work perfectly with emotional/non-rational output.

And I defy you to show me examples of when your team waxed poetically about how jazzed they were from the efficiency they drove. What gets them passionate is the power of ideas. CFOs and CEOs may measure and crave efficiency – but even they respond greater to ideas and growth.

Efficiency is frictionless – but friction causes sparks. A core idea behind efficiency is reducing friction – in order to gain speed. Speed equates with getting more done in less time. So organizations aim to shave processes down and remove all the edges and friction. But, when you shave off all the edges of something, you end up with something that, well, has no edge. So things can get a little bland. Sometimes you need some friction to generate creative sparks.

Another thing that friction can do is slow us down. Which is why most efforts towards efficiency are about eliminating friction and waste. But there can be a limit to how frictionless we should be, as Barry Schwartz wrote in the NY Times article called “Economics Made Easy: Think Friction”. A little bit of friction can slow us down enough to make better decisions. The recent housing/credit crisis may have been caused by too much efficiency. A little bit of friction might have been a very good thing.

And while the world is moving faster and faster, as I said in a post in April, it’s never been more important to SLOW DOWN. Slowing down can provide clarity, fosters a different kind of thinking that is more deliberate and methodical, and keeps us from knee-jerk responses. Sometimes you just have to take it slow.

So all you mono-maniacal efficiency-seekers beware – you can have too much of a good thing. So, instead, look for opportunities or reasons to be in-efficient. You’ll be glad you did.

What do you think?

The “Good” and the “Great” are NOT Enemies

Everyone knows the saying “the good is the enemy of the great”. And everyone knows the type of person who says it – an international-type marketeer, a planner with a British Colonial accent, an intellectual who believes he or she knows more than you do. It’s usually said with a bit of a “tut-tut” and a sneer, as if, “how could you try to sneak a ‘good’ idea past us? You know we all demand greatness, don’t we?” I used to hear it all the time a number of years ago when I ran the Unilever account. And it struck me as wrong then. But it’s now that the idiom’s wrongheadedness has really proven itself. It’s time to put that saying aside forever.

1) It’s always been used as a crutch, as a defense to not do anything.

The easiest thing to do is to criticize other ideas – and not take a stand yourself. Taking a stand requires conviction and risk. The risk that one could be wrong. Fearful and controlling people take this approach. But, as Lou Gerstner said, “Watch the turtle. He only moves forward by sticking his neck out.” The same goes for people. And brands.

I worked on Ragu many years ago. We had been struggling to develop a new campaign to re-launch the brand after many years of decline. The clients were “demanding”. The work had been so-so. And then we came up with a great idea, borne around a promotion. The clients really liked it, but said “it’s a good promotional idea. We need a great brand idea.” We said that we could evolve it into one over time – just let us take this big first step.  They said “let’s wait for something great”. Ragu is still waiting. The brand never got that big idea. It’s a dusty, 1970’s brand that will never really re-charge itself. I feel like it missed its chance by waiting for “greatness”.

2) I defy anyone to REALLY KNOW what is great.

Sorry, but any arbiter of greatness, from the best creative director to Millward-Brown to the CMO, is only guessing. It may look great, it may smell great, it may feel great, but until it’s been fleshed out, developed cross-channels, and built into a consumer-focused program that can be executed, it’s impossible to know just how good or great it is. Period.

3) It’s only great if it works.

Here’s another fact. If it doesn’t work, then it ain’t great. Yes, there are tons of things beyond the control of the communications program – and many campaigns fail due to in-market dynamics that a) couldn’t be predicted, and b) are way beyond its purview. Nevertheless, calling campaigns that don’t achieve their goals “great” is just an apology.

4) And, most importantly, most of the time “great” takes some to nurture and develop.

Most things in life start good, and develop over time. Either by gaining momentum, by learning from experience, or simply by growing the storyline and growing the depth and breadth of the message. So, as General Patton said, “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

One campaign that I feel has begun to grow over time is the Allstate “Mayhem” campaign. I initially was unsure about it – but it seems to be growing, getting better, more interesting, more compelling. There’s a concept behind it that they can continue to develop and nurture for the brand. And there’s definitely more they can do with it – it’s not even present on their website. I’m interested in where it’s headed. But had they said “it’s good, but not great”, they might have chosen not to move forward with it.

So the next time someone tells you “the good is the enemy of the great”, tell them they’re wrong. That the good and the great are actual good friends. It’s just that the good is more punctual. And the great usually follows him later.

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