Showing posts with label small business. Show all posts
Showing posts with label small business. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 20

Facebook Screening: Executive Mistake In The Making

Hat tip to David Svet and Shelly Kramer for sharing Mark Story's rebut to bad career advice from Forbes. The original article, Social Media And The Job Hunt: Squeaky-Clean Profiles Need Not Apply, alludes to an idea that some headhunters and human resources pros want to be psychoanalysts.

Meghan Casserly warns that people who scrub their Facebook pages of unflattering poses or risqué postings run the risk of being labeled as having "no social skills." Her advice runs contrary to the other extreme, which is that every Facebook account ought to be polished, protected, and controlled.

Casserly also tells a story about her friend, a 21-year-old screener, who looks for the right "personality match" as conveyed by Facebook, along with the usual qualifications that might make a candidate shine. Her advice, much like Story concludes, is bad. Maybe even more than he might suspect.

Facebook is not your personality in print. Facebook is merely a crude character sketch. 

The comments are akin to Peter Shankman, who said after he reads a LinkedIn profile, he immediately visits Facebook to see what they are really like. His comment inspired me to write "Why I Stopped Worrying About Being Batman." I was equally inspired by Story's debut, but for the right reasons.

What Shankman and Casserly both fail to realize is two-fold. Facebook does not capture who people "really are." And, more importantly, people don't draw the same conclusions from what might be there. For every company looking for a free-sprited socialite, another wants someone buttoned down. For everyone scratching their head about an old college photo, someone else is holding it in admiration.

Nobody can really guess these things. So it's best not to play games with them. You neither have to scrub your Facebook nor plant an appropriate amount of embarrassing moments or poor judgements. All you really need to do is be comfortable with who you are, share what you are comfortable sharing, and always remember that old adage that eventually creeps up in public relations classes. What's that?

Never do anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of The New York Times.

In fairness to Casserly, it seems she was mostly trying to vet the other extreme and built an article around people who subscribe to the notion of letting it all hang out. She cites the ugly survey: "One in five executives say that a candidate's social media profile has caused them not to hire that person."

What is less clear, as always, is the reason why. Few surveys delve into the reason that people decide not to hire someone because of a Facebook account. And even fewer delve into the reason some companies have taken to screening them.

Sure, there has always been the "X factor" in job placement. Candidates who do everything right but are ultimately passed over because of intangible gut instincts. And some, although human resources hopes it will never show up, for anything and everything ranging from haircuts to political affiliations.

But my thought on that is pretty clear. If someone won't hire you based on social differences or a social media profile, then be glad they didn't hire you. There is a good chance you weren't a good fit, but for exactly the opposite reason. They weren't a good fit for you.

Better yet, ask if they would be willing to marry someone based on nothing but a Facebook account. And if they say they are already married, then ask for their spouse's Facebook address. When they ask why, tell them his or her account will tell you everything you need to know about their judgement. Ridiculous? Exactly right.

Monday, May 14

Making Bottle Rockets: Plan, Test, Execute

The unceremonious flight of my son's science project took place on the night before the project was due. The bottle rocket that his teacher intended to jettison 20 to 50 feet in the air using water and compressed air sailed through the air on its own, not outside like it was intended, but inside after it was hurled across room in frustration.

"What the heck?!?" 

"It's not working. Humfph,"was all my son said.

He had an ambitious idea to bring more than a neon green 2-liter bottle to school for his experiment, which is a good thing. But he also had the idea to mount the thin edge of his air foil fins to the outside of the bottle, which wasn't such a good thing. There simply wasn't enough surface area on the fin to attach it to the curvature of the bottle. 

That in itself wouldn't have been a big deal. What was a big deal was that it was already 9 p.m. and the project was due the next day. He needed a redesign, which also required me to keep some of my parental angst about procrastination from adding too much insult to injury (although I might have mentioned an X-box vacation; meaning for the X-box, not him). 

Three little words that could save most small business social media programs. 

Plan. Test. Execute. Those three little words that could have saved my son's bottle rocket from suffering the same fate as the Vanguard TV3, which was the first attempt of the United States to launch a rocket into outer space and crashed onto the liftoff pad after flying four feet. It could also save most small business social media programs. 

What my son did to his science project is what most people do in social media. Whatever they see being done looks so easy and effortless that they rush toward completion. But the rub of this kind of thinking is always the same. If it looks so easy that anybody could do it, it's anything but easy. 

This is why social media programs are launched every day without any foresight. Many small businesses (and big businesses too) take the advice of enthusiasts to jump right in for success. But much like the thin edges of a foil fin, they never plan their with enough surface area to stick. 

What surface area am I talking about? Content that connects. If you haven't planned out the kind of content you are offering — articles, videos, white papers, bon mots — and why that content might be important to the people you want to attract, who's going to care about what you share? (Certainly somebody will care, just not the millions that seem to make up most social media success stories.) 

Plan. What topical spheres make sense for your customers? How often will you be able to produce it? What do you intend to do when you don't have anything to produce? How does it contrast against what everybody else is already offering? And what's going to make it stick with your select group?

Test. Just because you can think it, doesn't mean it will work. I still remember one of my marketing teachers (a former engineer) who lamented having built one of the first working hovercrafts in the 1970s. They built and sold a few, just not enough to keep the doors opens. 

Execute. Once you are reasonably sure the idea will work, then you can execute, measure, and adjust. And, if you have enough foresight, it might not be a bad idea to have a contingency plan too. The web's virtual landfills already have too many abandoned blogs and social network accounts. 

For my son, the solution was easy enough. While I feigned disinterest to see what he was going to do, I sketched out three possible solutions. He could glue pre-slotted cardboard panels to the bottle, with the fins sliding into the slots. He could cut the fins, splaying the bottom inch or so to create more surface area. Or he could find clear packing tape that would provide support on both sides of the fin. 

The testing phase ruled out the first two ideas. There was no more cardboard and cutting the fins carried too much risk. Using the clear packaging tape was perfect, maybe even better than anyone hoped. It held the fins in place without obstructing the paint job. For additional stability, he added drops of glue at the top and bottom of all three fins, where they connected to the bottle. Done.

Sure, had he invested more time into the planning, the fins might have even been shaped to be more aerodynamic in order to give his bottle rocket more lift. But considering the quick fix became the contingency plan, he settled for cosmetics. Some social media plans do too, but never as well as they could have if someone had sketched out a plan before they hit 'join.'

Wednesday, April 25

Making Decisions: Are Consumers In Control?

I was sitting in a business meeting yesterday when someone posed an interesting point. Eighty percent of startups develop products they never intended, driven by the markets they never intended to enter as dictated by the consumer. Never mind that the figure — 80 percent — was anectodal and unattributed.

This thinking is all around us. Some people say that social media sparked a consumer revolution, one where executive edicts were traded up for crowd-sourced darlings. You know the story. Companies better listen to consumers or else. They know what they need and make everything better.

How does the public know what 'should be' when it doesn't know what 'could be?'

Sometimes the public is right. During the Bronze Age in Great Britain, which spanned 2100-750 BC, consumers had it right. The early metal work started by the Beaker culture continually improved over hundreds of years until the final phases when Britain and the rest of Europe produced classic leaf-shaped swords.

For all we know, consumers would have refined bronze work for several thousand years more (like some cultures around the world did) if it hadn't been for the inconvenient introduction of another metal that would eventually sweep across Europe between 800 BC and 400 AD (or so). Iron and steel changed everything, including the entire socio-economic system that made people comfortable.

But can you imagine the change if we were experiencing it today? Some corporations would have argued evolving from bronze to iron was idiotic. Not only is iron more difficult to smelt and more costly to shape, but consumers would also be complaining about higher prices for a stronger but more brittle metal.

That's all fine and good, I suppose, until those guys with the iron cut through your defenses.

So what if this so-called 80-20 rule is right? What do you want to do? 

Sometimes I think businesses hire too many people who guess at so-called guarantees. The reality in business, much like life, is that all models only work sometimes and all guarantees are guesses at best. And that makes the riddle of bronze vs. iron nothing more than a parlor trick.

What I mean by that is: most decisions are never as clear cut as "do we fulfill the public need for better bronze or go with the gut of the guy in the back room and build out our iron division." Instead, they are littered with intangibles. You know, the guy in the back room could just as feasibly be working on a ham sandwich, in which case refining bronze might be better than hurling lunch meat.

So, it really does depend on the team and our best guess, just as history teaches us. Right. Some people backed beta and others picked up VHS. Flash forward a few dozen years only to find out that both decisions were wrong because DVDs, er, Blu-Rays and digital files win for now.

All this leads to a different approach. It seems to me that business choices have nothing to do with sizing everything up into 'either' and 'or' columns. Companies are better off innovating products and services that consumers have never seen and then refining those innovations once they are released in the marketplace based on consumer input, while keeping a watchful eye any inspirations that occur within every marketplace with every launch. That, of course, and everything needs to be weighed against what's next — information and ideas and innovations that consumers know nothing about it.

Ergo, Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion because the guy in the buyer's back room had just as much time but came up with a ham sandwich. They called it Timeline. Meanwhile, Instragram went niche.

Friday, March 30

Branding Power: The Bank Of Apple, Part 2 of 2

On Wednesday, I shared the interesting outcome of a survey conducted by strategic and research consultancy KAE in cooperation with online pollster Toluna. The study they conducted revealed that 10 percent of the public and almost 50 percent of all Apple customers would choose the Bank of Apple over all other bank brands.

While the survey is still speculative, there is always the possibility that Apple could reinvent the banking industry much like it helped shape the music, video, telecommunications, and publishing industries. The technology already exists to do it.

But more than the news itself, we considered how powerful a properly managed brand can become, eclipsing institutions with years of experience in one sector simply because the winning brand has continually demonstrated that it can improve any industry it happens to set its eyes upon.

Even people who aren't fans of Apple sometimes ask how it could build a company as admired as Apple overall. The answer is easier to deliver than execute, but it's remarkably simple. A company that wants to develop real brand power — enough that people will trust it outside of its own niche — has to stop worrying about profits alone and nurture something less tangible like character.

The five Ps of creating a dynamic and unforgettable brand. 

Purpose. Define who you are and what you are to offer-- a mission that defines what you do, a vision that defines where you will go, and the values you will employ to get there. It establishes the voice and character of an organization, and the willingness of a company to stay true to it makes all the difference.

Product. Innovation is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. While the most successful companies innovate products and services that the world has never seen, it can be as simple as making something more accessible or delivering it faster or creating an experience around it. Whatever that contrast in the market might be, the most critical element is meeting or exceeding expectations.

Promise. All successful communication is designed to change behavior, whether it invites someone to try a new product, shop at a new store, or help redefine an industry. Marketing, advertising, public relations, and social media not only generate attention, but also set an appropriate level of expectation.

People. It's not enough that products and services operate within the mission, vision, and values of a company; the people have to adhere to those qualities too. When done correctly, each individual person-to-person contact reinforces the brand and reputation of a company just as much as the product. The goal, through international communication and operations, is to empower people to realize the vision of the company just as much as the executive team.

Public. Perhaps even more so than years prior, companies are not only judged by their customers but also by their presence within the communities in which they operate. Sometimes it is just important for a company to meet the expectation of the friends and family of customers as they must meet those of their customers.

The character-driven brand will thrive in the future. 

Apple isn't the only company that seems to have crossed this threshold. Virgin was founded on some of these same ideas. So was Google. So was Castle Rock. So was Zappos. So was The Four Seasons. On the front end, scores have been (and some even remain) committed to those companies to this day. 

At least on the front end, all of these companies and others were less concerned about profit and product (although some leveraged product price as a means to reinforce their brand) than any of these five areas. Not only did they know the obvious, but they were unafraid to execute it.

When you think about companies almost like you might think about character development, everything is a little easier to understand (even if it is a little more complicated than that). People who nurture their character tend to excel in their professions, earn more money, attract more friends, and earn more respect. And even if all things do not come right away, they are still content in being beneficial.

People who do not — those who are always looking for an edge, chase money or steal, undermine others to look better, and insist they are entitled to authority — might experience short-term gains but eventually sputter out or perhaps even build entire organizations of discontent. There are scores of those kinds of companies too, Budget Rent A Car, Netflix, NS Goldman Sachs to consider a few.

Monday, March 12

Communicating Internally: Engagement Matters

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), half of all employees who say they do not feel valued at work intend to look for a new job in the next year (almost three times as likely as those who do feel valued). But this turnover statistic alone doesn't capture the most convincing arguments within the study, given many employers are happy to see unsatisfied employees go.

The real boon comes from valued employees. 

Employees who do feel valued are more likely to report better physical health, better mental health, and higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and motivation. In fact, almost all employees who feel valued at work say they are more motivated to do their best work and 88 percent say they feel engaged.

Translating this information into tangible measures is relatively easy. Valued employees take fewer sick days, produce better quality work, and are much more likely to refer or talk about their companies.

"The business world is in the midst of a sea change," says David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, head of APA's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. "Successful organizations have learned that high performance and sustainable results require attention to the relationships among employee, organization, customer and community."

The real costs associated with unvalued employees. 

More than one in five (21 percent) of working Americans said they do not feel valued by their employers. And while this number doesn't necessarily seem alarming, it can be if those employees are consecrated within a single company. 

In fact, according to the APA, one of the underlying symptoms of companies in trouble are those with an abundance of employees suffering from chronic stress, especially when it is exacerbated by low salaries (46 percent), lack of opportunities for growth or advancement (41 percent), too heavy a workload (41 percent), long hours (37 percent), and unclear job expectations (35 percent).

Like other studies outside the workforce, the leading complaints among unvalued employees isn't tied exclusively to compensation. Employees, much like consumers, are looking for something more meaningful. They want to have a sense of purpose at their place of work.

Why do employees feel undervalued or unvalued at work?

• Fewer opportunities for involvement in decision making (84 percent).
• Less satisfied with the potential for growth and advancement (70 percent).
• Less likely to say they are receiving adequate monetary compensation (69 percent). 
• Less likely to say that they are receiving adequate non-monetary rewards (65 percent). 
• Fewer opportunities to use flexible work arrangements at the job (59 percent). 

A few years ago, a Gallup study on employee engagement found that about 54 percent of employees in the United States are not engaged and 17 percent are disengaged. (Only 29 percent are engaged.)

Remedies to increase engagement included two-way communication, trust in leadership, career development, shared decision making, and the means to understand the importance every role plays within a company. (Not surprisingly, many of these descriptors also appear on social media tip sheets.)

We've included some of these remedies before in several articles, including: Forgetting A Public, Manifesting Creativity, and Thinking Big. Coincidentally, the first article (conducted by a different researcher) also found that as many as 50 percent of all employees who did not feel valued would be looking for a new job. One of the most common reasons cited by employers who do not value employees was that it was an employers' market and their employees could be readily replaced. (It would not be surprising to learn that many of these companies feel the same way about their customers.)

Interestingly enough, the benefits of developing an engaged, participatory, and valued group of individuals is not confined to the workforce. The dynamic exists within volunteer organizations, social networks, and even families. The more people feel involved — and can better understand that their contributions carry meaning — the better results businesses, organizations, communities, and groups can anticipate in return.

Monday, April 25

Banking On Outlooks: Business Startups

Startup Outlook 2011According to new study released by Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), U.S.-based private and venture capital-backed tech companies are more optimistic in their near-term outlooks. More than 83 percent said they will be hiring this year, which is up 10 percent from last year.

The study focuses on a survey of 375 executives (80 percent at the C-level) of U.S.-based, early-stage companies in four high technology sectors: software/Internet (206 companies), hardware (63 companies), life sciences (83 companies), and clean tech (23 companies). The survey was conducted by a third-party market research firm, Koski Research, in February.

Key Findings From The Startup Outlook 2011.

• Nearly one in four companies (23 percent) exceeded their 2010 revenue targets, up significantly from 2009 (15 percent).

• Two in three executives say that business conditions in 2010 were better than they were the previous year, and three in four expect they will get even better in the coming 12 months.

• The vast majority of surveyed companies (83 percent) plan to hire in the coming year, up from 73 percent a year ago.

• 65 percent of respondents say business expansion and new markets are a top priority for them in 2011.

• The life science sector is more cautious in its outlook, citing regulatory/political issues as its primary challenges. Across all sectors, regulatory/political issues ranked as the third biggest challenge faced by startups.

• The top two concerns are the uncertainty created by our regulatory environment and the overall negative impact this environment is having on risk taking.

While the outlook is positive, government is slowing the recovery.

In order, the biggest challenges faced by these companies included equity financing, scaling operations for growth, and regulatory/political environment. While equity financing topped the list, the cause is also tied to government.

According to survey respondents, venture capital fundraising and investment levels are hindered by a tone set by the administration. While government claims that innovation is the key to success, it has also maintained a tone that suggests an aversion to risk. Unfortunately, innovation and risk go hand in hand.

"Probably my biggest concern (after equity financing) vis-a-vis operating as a startup in the U.S. is the stifling regulatory/tax environment here," said one survey respondent. "The sheer number of regulations and tax issues that have to be dealt with are staggering and the corporate (and related) taxes are highly punitive relative to other developed countries."

According to several respondents, the environment created by the government is driving more companies to move operations overseas. Along with regulatory issues, respondents said that they tend to hire slowly, given the high cost of compensation packages and the high cost of living in the U.S., along with the scarcity of qualified tech employees.

That doesn't mean executives are not bullish on America. On the contrary, only 13 percent would recommend their peers look elsewhere to start a company. The primary reason for their sentiment, respondents said, is because of the country's entrepreneurial spirit. In order to move beyond current challenges, SVB says the U.S. needs to adopt a more entrepreneurial environment.

Innovation remains the key in helping turn the U.S. economy around.

Among the suggestions included in its policy perspective, SVB suggests that the government promote risk taking and reward successes that result from it, remain open to disruptive innovation (even if it turns older companies upside down), provide a stable, predictable legal and business environment (without the back and forth of sweeping policy changes), and avoid excessive regulation. In addition, the government needs to reform education to ensure the country remains competitive in providing a strong pipeline of talent or allowing more qualified immigrants to bring their skills to America.

Other suggestions included government-sponsored R&D, tax credits for R&D, maintaining a sound system for protecting intellectual property rights, promote the flow of adequate risk capital into startups, and remove subsidies, regulations, and other market-distorting forces that favor incumbents.

These changes are critical for tech companies to help increase the speed of economic recovery, the study suggests. Otherwise, the U.S. will continue to discourage venture money, driving more technology away to India and China. The full report can be found here. It includes insights specific to each sector.

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