Hire Slowly; Fire Quickly

That’s a direct quote from Loren Becker from Zappos, speaking at the International Social Media and PR Summit here in Amsterdam.

Hire Slowly

Zappos’ hiring process includes multiple meetings, including informal meetings with groups of colleagues. Part of the company culture includes socialising together so for them it’s important to know that new hires are good to socialise with.

There were some tweets of concern; seeing this as a step too far into the person’s private time, and perhaps disturbing the work/life balance. But I think most people on the hiring side of the equation have a similar test; we’re all looking for “fit”, will this new person work well in our team, and fit the company’s culture.

Maybe the Zappos approach is too extreme for your company, how about the beer test? I recommended this to a colleague who was recruiting a while ago. When you’re interviewing someone ask yourself “on a random evening after work would I have a beer with this guy?” He applied the test, the answer was “no”, and he hired anyway on the basis that he rarely goes for drinks after work so it didn’t matter. But it’s not whether you will actually have that beer, it’s how you feel about doing it. By the way, in his case the hire was a mistake.

Fire Quickly

If you know you’ve made a mistake hiring someone, fire them quickly.

This is easier to put into effect in the US where the principle of “at-will employment” is used, and harder in Europe where there is a stronger social contract between the employer and the employee. But that’s all the more reason to hire slowly, and to use a probation period. It’s important to communicate with the new hire what you expect in the probation period and to make a fair assessment before taking the step to fire someone.

If you don’t take steps to fire someone who doesn’t perform or who really does not fit the culture (I’m not talking quirky, but major behaviour difference) it’s a drain on the team. They see that low performance is tolerated which reduces their motivation, they can also find it difficult to cope with the different behaviour. A highly co-operative team may absorb a highly competitive colleague – until on a bad day she shouts demands at a junior colleague.

So fire quickly, remove what will otherwise become a festering problem in your team. but the best way to avoid having to fire someone, is to hire slowly.

Snail snail /Aleksandar Cocek/ CC BY-SA 2.0
Cheetah Cheetah Run 4 /Gary Eyring/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How old is your social media manager?

There are a whole new series of job titles evolving in the online world. One of those is “Social Media Manager”. It’s a role that didn’t exist when I was at university the second time. And let’s not talk about the the first time I was at university – the internet hadn’t been invented and our essays were hand-written, double-spaced and came back red-inked.

Does that mean I am unfit for the role of Social Media Manager? Well according to Cathryn Sloan, yes. Merely being over 25 disqualifies me from the role, because the under-25s grew up with social media therefore they’re better at it.

The key is that we learned to use social media socially before professionally, rather than vice versa or simultaneously. After all, it is called social media; the seemingly obvious importance of incorporating comforting social aspects into professional usage seems to go over several companies’ heads. To many people in the generations above us, Facebook and Twitter are just the latest ways of getting messages out there to the public, that also happen to be the best.

I think her argument has merit, so much so that the the person in my team with the most “social media” in her job is in her twenties. She’s finding ways for our content to become more social, working to consolidate our Linkedin presence, and coaching subject matter experts on using Social Media.

However I expect a lot more from a social media manager than knowledge of social media, to be valuable they must also;

  • understand our brand
  • know our company culture
  • know our products and services
  • be able to sustain a campaign
  • understand privacy constraints
  • know the regulations concerning the financial services industry (and ours is not the only highly regulated industry)
  • know our customers.

The last one is absolutely crucial, and the one where the “I grew up with facebook” logic is most likely to fail, for the very simple reason that our customers are not all 25-year-old new graduates who grew up on social media sites.

If I were hiring for a social media team the younger-than-25 new graduates might get hired at a junior level to help the content experts develop their content in a social direction. But Cathryn Sloane, with her B.A. in creative nonfiction writing, is probably underqualified.

Likeable came up with a list of 5 qualities of a great social media manager, it would be a rare 21-year-old who fulfilled them all (I certainly didn’t). Which is not to say that 21-year-olds should not be hired in social media roles. Just that for most companies the right approach in their communications or marketing or social media teams is going to be a mix of expertise. Some people with a deep knowledge of the company, balanced by some new people with a fresh outlook. The infectious enthusiasm of young people, balanced by more senior people who can see a wider context.

So by all means hire some under-25s into social media roles, you’ll benefit from their fresh take on things and their high comfort level with social media. It seems obvious and logical – but it’s not an SEO rated headline.

Image child computer

Those Difficult Conversations

HR processes to protect people from unscrupulous companies. They are perhaps less good at protecting good companies from unscrupulous employees, reflecting the imbalance of power.

I recently heard of a jaw-dropping case of abuse by an employee at a small company. By small I mean fewer than 5 people on the pay roll and a number of volunteers. They manage (among other things) a venue.

A woman, lets call her Angie (because that was not her name), was hired as office manager, her duties included being at the venue every weekday morning from 9 – 1pm, taking calls, answering emails, handling invoices, organising delivery of supplies. Pretty easy number.

For a long time the company director noticed that Angie was not fulfilling her duties. She didn’t seem to be as available as expected during her work hours, work didn’t seem to be done in the time allotted. The director started to suspect that Anglie wasn’t as honest and reliable as she portrayed, but had no evidence to back this up.

So the company director started to manage the performance, she sat down with Angie and in a long and difficult conversation went through all the things expected of Angie during the week; including very specific expectations on availability during the hours she was hired for. Perfect response; as a manager you need to set clear goals together, explain the improvement you need to see, and set a timeline for that improvement to happen. It’s effective feedback for the employee – Angie, and if things do not improve you have taken the first step in a long HR process to address Angie’s contract.

Well it turns out that the reason Angie was not performing her duties is that she has a business of her own. No problem with that in principle but Angie was using work time and work resources to run this business.

This all came to light when the company director turned up for an unannounced visit at the venue and found that Angie was busy with two clients for her own business, and was ignoring the phones and two potential clients who had visited the venue.

Which set the stage for difficult conversation #2; addressing flagrant misconduct.

The director calmly stated that Angie had acted in breach of her contract, and they would now have to address that breach.

Angie became defensive saying “you shouldn’t have come to the office unannounced.”

Some people need a reality check.

So how can you handle such difficult discussions when they are sprung on you?

  • stay calm
  • focus on facts – the agreements made and the actual breach
  • use the “stuck record” technique, repeating your point clearly
  • do not react to any remarks from the employee that might be designed to provoke
  • do not rush to a decision, use language such as “address the breach of contract” to give yourself time to decide on a fair action and involve HR or other parties as needed

If the case is so serious that you think firing is the next step here’s a great step by step guide from Guy Kawasaki, I particularly like his last step.

In this case Angie lost her temper and threatened to resign, to which the director very cleverly responded “you have that choice”, and accepted a written resignation the following day.

image A Difficult Conversation /Timothy Valentine/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Who Can Use Social Media?

Who can use social media in your company’s name; everyone? only the PR team? trained and certified employees?

I was listening to Carla Buzasi talk about the launch of Huffington Post UK at the Ragan Social Media and PR Summit, Huffington Post uses bloggers and takes them seriously. They trawl through blogs, comments on their own site and twitter looking for potential writers for the site, they’ll link to a story on another source openly. It’s a change in the usual business model for news providers and it seems to be working.

In her presentation Carla Buzasi mentioned that BBC has a policy that you can only use social media on behalf of the company if they’ve already been using twitter for at least two months. My first reaction was that this seems reasonable. But the world at “Huff Post” is different, their approach is to tell people to “get in there and start”.

Cool you think, how brave. But here comes the kicker.

Buzasi went on to mention that in a job interview she’d asked the applicant whether she had any experience in social media – and ended the interview when the answer was no. So the people she’s hired are already social media savvy.

The BBC on the other hand has an established pool of employees, many of whom have no experience in social media. So a two month practice period is a low threshold to get people started. Similarly Dell uses a structured approach of providing policies, training and certification for its employees.

Who’s right? Well, they both are. If you’re a small company, with the luxury of hiring people with strong social media/comms skills the policy free (Buzasi mentioned “Don’t be an idiot” as being the extent of theirs) and go for it approach will work. If you’ve got a pool of employees who are experts in their own field then the approach used by BBC, Dell and others at the conference of building policies and training and working to build the expertise in the company makes far more sense.


Tips for your CV

There are thousands of books and websites out there advising you how to write your CV, I want to give three practical tips and explain why they’re important to the person who handles your CV.

1) Put your name on every page
Most CVs of professional mid-career people are more than one page, if that’s true of your CV please add a footer with your name and page numbers in it.

Usually CVs get printed out for the assessors to read, it’s easy for papers to be shuffled around and then it’s a pain to sort out the pages. I’ve even resorted to reprinting CVs on occasion just to be sure I have it organised. I do own a stapler-but I’d rather be able to spread papers out and compare them.

2) Add all your contact information
Please add both your email address and your phone number.

In these days of mobiles with voice mail there’s no reason not to add a mobile number. You may want to use a personal email address, but take care – wildsexthing69@mail.com is not going to prove your professionalism in most occupations.

As the recruiter I will want to contact you quickly and easily, by phone is fastest, by email means I can send you more detailed information.

3) Save file as your name
I’m still surprised when applicants don’t do this, it shows a lack of thought regarding how their CV will be handled.

Usually there are several applicants, and I save their files to the same folder. If your name isn’t in the file name it’s harder for me to figure out which is your CV. Of course I can rename the file, but why would you as an applicant want to make me do that.

These might seem obvious, but I’ve just been reviewing a set of CVs, and apparently they’re not.

Image curriculum vitae

Social Media Screening

Social Media amplifies who we are, so if I looked back through your social media profile would I see the angel side of you – or your inner devil?

Every so often a story floats to the surface of someone fired or not hired because of a posting on facebook or a tweet. Researches cite figures of a growing percentage of employers checking the online presence of their job candidates.

Businesses are motivated by concerns of (potential) reputation issue, but there are a lot of types of content that might be in the NSFW category without strictly being a reputation risk for an employer. I mean who hasn’t partied hard at some point in their lives? With the power of mobile phones your worst moments are now up there for posterity.

For many people compromising material is online out of ignorance, but others – perhaps those born into the digital era – have a blase attitude about privacy online. They don’t understand that if a company sniffs a potential reputation issue they’re likely to choose the cleaner candidate. An additional challenge to companies hiring is that they may open themselves up to charges of discrimination by taking on any in-depth online investigation.

But someone saw an opportunity out of this conflict between an individual’s privacy and a company’s reputation concerns. Social Intelligence promises to resolve this conflict and enable “fair and consistent hiring”. They’ll research you online and report back to the employer; if nothing is found the employer hears that you’ve passed and doesn’t see anything they found. If you fail a report is generated and sent to the employer who can then use that in their hiring decision.

Mat Honan from Gizmodo submitted himself for a report, failed it, and blogged about it – including posting the full report. The report lists the specific sites checks and specifies whether an issue was found, and if so what was the issue – and adds a screen shot. The report omits any information that will identify the candidates religion, ethnic origin, nationality political affiliation, marital status and so on. This means that the hiring company is protected from any allegations of discrimination. It’s a smart business concept.

Of course, you can do a lot to help yourself; lock down your profiles, use the privacy settings, be smart about what you post online. If you’re job-hunting check google results for your name and any aliases, if you’re in the US you can use reputation.com to monitor your online presence.

image devil via pixabay