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Business Is Personal

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Slightly out of my usual ranty character on this blog, I’m publishing a piece I wrote for the Brandrepublic Career Blog which is going to be published in the next couple of weeks. I thought I’d cover it here too because it’s concerning my fundamentals about doing business – and indeed building relationships in all sorts of spheres, in which I think it’s crucial that you are true to yourself and the other people, and live out your beliefs.

Last month’s Online Adspend figures from the IAB give us some data to prove what we all know within the digital industry – not only is digital now the single largest part of all advertising spend (28% over TVs 26% of all advertising spending) but it continues to grow at a recession-defying pace.

With the advertising market overall predicted to grow by around 3% in 2012 (source), digital advertising jauntily grew by 12.6% year on year in the first half of 2012, with paid search maintaining its place as both the largest portion of this (59%) and the fastest growing (15.9% year on year).

This of course is great news for those of us in this industry – our jobs are relatively secure in a world where many other sectors are shedding staff in droves. What these figures don’t tell of course is the underlying story of staff churn and salary inflation created by these figures.

Having worked in digital since 1999, and agencies since 2005 I’ve been a grateful career benefactor of digital supply and demand, and also seen the impact of these issues first hand as manager of digital and search agency teams.

When I joined MediaCom to run the UK paid search department in 2011 I inherited a team of 38 people that had been churning at a rate of over 75% for the last two years.  The reasons were many but not unfamiliar – a great training ground created a bank of very employable staff, who were approached weekly by recruitment consultants/other agencies and offered hugely tempting salaries – which are easy to afford if you don’t have to fund the costs of training or unproductivity for new and management staff during the training process.

Add this to the youth of the agency sector and the fact that most graduates start with a huge debt burden, and it’s not surprising we have the perfect storm for huge staff churn, with all its negative effects on team morale, consistency in client work and time spent recruiting rather than making our teams and our work better.

My approach has always been to treat business as personal. Every decision that we make has an impact on our colleagues, clients and the wider community and it pays to remember that the people you meet will be around to help or hinder you for the rest of your career. Now that any mishap in business or personal life can also be broadcast across the entire Twittersphere within moments, it’s even more important that we are personally involved and authentic in all our professional relationships –besides – who wants to live 1/3 of every day as someone you’re not?

It can’t all be lovely fluffiness of course – we all have bills to pay and clients to service – so for this reason when managing a team I use a two pronged approach to all people management tasks:

Structural foundation: No organisation can work without the building blocks of what, who, and how. Each role within a team needs to have a job description, a personalised set of objectives for each member (based on their client mix, their skills and career aims, and the market’s possibilities), that ensure that the client’s and business needs are fulfilled.

In something as fast changing as digital, with new technologies and partners, the operational tasks that make up the objectives are likely to be changing on a regular basis, so as a minimum 1:1s are needed every 3 months to check that things are on track and the world hasn’t changed under our feet. The detail of the steps may change but career progression needs to be clearly signposted and recognised when it is achieved. Nothing is more demotivating than running just to keep still.

The personal approach: One of the best known theories in psychology is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in which Maslow contends that once we satisfy our basic physical needs (food, shelter), we move onto satisfying social and status needs, and finally work our way through to self-actualisation – and hopefully finding a real purpose in our lives. Taking the workplace as a microcosm of society, we can have people at multiple levels of this hierarchy within any one team, and crucially it will not necessarily correlate to their career maturity. There will be some who are grateful to just have an income, those who desperately need more money, some who embrace the new and require fast progression or a new job title, and those who need flexibility around their family needs or just want to be with their friends. As a manager our role is to figure out what each team member’s drivers are, and how to satisfy those within the realms of our professional and personal capabilities.

The point is that there is no all encompassing perfect approach – it is different for each member of staff, and keeping up with them all certainly keeps us on our feet. Happily my tenure at MediaCom search saw the staff churn levels from 75% to 28% within less than two years, so I am taking that as a sign of success.

Oh, and remember – you can’t win them all. When people do leave; as they sometimes will for reasons outside your control; let them leave with a smile. You will come across them again – I promise – and you’ll be glad to.

Smashing the Spinning Jenny

September 6, 2010 Leave a comment

The concept of Luddism came up in conversation today (in context of when discussing the immovable Tube unions who hold London to ransom on an alarmingly regular basis – get with it guys, or you’ll be replaced with tech – have you seen the DLR???).

In view of this, plus some hugely funny tweets from #clientsfh (clients from hell) made me cast my mind back to one of the classic moments of tech stupidity back in (what is now) the olden days.

be still my beating heart ;)

The year was 1997. I was working in the ad sales team for Internet World magazine at publisher VNU, and received a very furious complaint telephone call as follows:

Him:

I have a complaint about one of your advertisers

Me:

OK, which one? Can you tell me which ad is the problem?

Him:

Page 88 [the classified pages at the back], the one at the top right.

Pause for me to shuffle through the magazine in question and find the ad, which is for a porn bulletin board – headline of “Free sexy images” or somesuch.

Me:

OK, I’ve found the ad you mean, what seems to be the problem?

Him:

Well, I call the number on the advert and all I get is a screechy noise

Me:

Oh. [starting to grin to myself] That’s because the number advertised is the one you’re supposed to connect to with your modem

Him:

What’s a modem?

Me:

It’s the thing you use to connect your computer to the internet.

Him:

(blustering) Well, I haven’t got a computer!

Me:

So, why are you reading Internet World magazine then?

Him:

I picked it up in the doctor’s surgery.

He remained furious right until the end, and seemed unembarrassed about the fact that he was so furious because he’d been denied his access to free porn.

Needless to say that by the end of the call I had the phone on loudspeaker mode with my colleagues and I crying with laughter in the office. Definitely better than any CD-tray-as-cupholder urban myths – and one that actually happened to me.

Recession? Sorted.

July 20, 2010 2 comments

If I said that I could, in one fell swoop

  • improve work/life balance for those people who’d like it
  • reduce congestion at rush hour
  • prevent layoffs
  • decrease the need for dependents to be farmed out to childcare/old people’s homes
  • increase staff loyalty & reduce churn
  • make it easier to retain experienced staff nearing retirement age

would you be interested in finding out how?

The answer is simple – flexible working, offered to all – men and women, parents or not, at all ages.

I know I’m biased, due to having a toddler, and also about to be made redundant due to financial issues, but I do think if we reconsider the 9-6 commuter presentee-ism rat race there are many benefits that people would appreciate, and would often be more than happy to sacrifice a portion of their salary for.

Many people during the recession have been offered the chance of /coerced into working shorter hours in order to save the company money – often on the premise that this is a way to retain the jobs’ existence. I’d be really interested to hear if this has been met with enthusiasm where it’s been offered. I know that when I returned after maternity leave on 3 days a week, then increased to 4 days a week, many people – not just fellow parents were envious of this flexibility.

Add to this the man hours lost to rush hour traffic, the difficulty in juggling school opening times and holidays, the fact that many jobs can be done sitting at a computer almost anywhere rather than having to be in an office in an urban centre, and there are clear reasons that it should be considered, not just for parents (yes, of both sexes) but for all employed people.

Many people have outside interests, education, social commitments, transport issues that would make working a full 40 hour week difficult or impossible, or frankly – just not worth the constant juggling. If we’re all going to have to work till we’re 70 anyway then why not make as much of it bearable as you can, and prevent ourselves burning out.

I’d be mad to not see the difficulties of course – there would need to be a massive shift in the lack of trust and presentee-ism attitude amongst some employers, that assumes that staff are shirking if they’re not under a watchful eye. Also the logistics of ensuring coverage for clients/critical issues may be hard, but no harder than organising the rota of a supermarket with a few hundred staff with differing hours, surely? A bit of give and take can solve most problems I’m sure.

Some jobs require face to face meetings, and for staff to be contactable at expected hours – all this is possible within a flexible framework; and even jobs that would be difficult to fulfill in a short week can be shared between more than one person, with the understanding that they work together to make sure the job is done, and flex around each others’ needs if necessary.

Most worries about staff performance can surely be addressed with a combination of performance/delivery based targets and guidelines; and management who are willing to delegate responsibility to the employee themselves to get the job done, within a reasonable limit.

Please let me know if you’ve come across this in your workplace – I’m intrigued to see if I’m being over-optimistic (which I am wont to be) or not.