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Big accomplishment often catapults the person behind it to a position of influence in the industry. This is true of the high powered HR VPs who have worked over years to achieve industry prominence. It also happens to entrepreneurs who sell their companies.
Susan Strayer, Marriott International’s Senior Director, Global Employer Brand and Marketing, is going places fast because of what she accomplishes. In an extremely short time, Strayer has added dramatic energy to Marriott’s employment branding endeavors. When the company recently launched a game to drive employment branding, Susan was behind it.
While the Military (both ours and theirs) use gaming for recruiting purposes, it’s hardly a conventional approach to employment branding. Susan’s accomplishment suggests an inflection point in corporate recruiting. Whether or not companies choose to ‘game-ify’ their online efforts, the drive to build a loyal cadre of potential employees (by making the relationship fun and educational) is now on in earnest.
Speaking about the game, Susan said,
"It’s not a simulation, test or training, and it’s definitely not meant to be. Further, we’re not looking to immediately correlate hires to game play. What we do want to do though is twofold: first, create brand awareness (in global growth markets where the Marriott name isn’t well-known) and engagement where it is. Second, we want to reinforce the pride our employees have in working for Marriott. Many of them have a deep connection and affiliation with the company and the brand and in combination with the power of employee referrals we see it as a great opportunity."
The most interesting thing about the game is that it serves related but different functions in Marriott’s various global markets. In some countries (China, India) the game is positioned to help potential employees demonstrate the status of work in a hotel. By showing the managerial complexity of the job, prospective team members can garner parental support. In other, more mature markets, the game shows that Marriott has a surprising edge.
Listening to Strayer describe her project, you can’t help admiring the simplicity of the solution. While the market by market requirements are complex, the game functions admirably to deliver a variety of objectives.
Part of the accomplishment involves helping a large conservative company execute nimbly in the fast paced web markets. While Marriott operates one of the top 25 largest ecommerce sites, it’s not a brand that immediately suggests innovation or quick market adaptation. For an HR operation to make a move like this from a platform like that suggests some interesting things.
Strayer is quick to tell you about the support and encouragement she gets from her management structure. It’s a universe that includes a blogging CEO and an array of social media experiments. But, make no mistake, subtlety, finesse and sheer determination play a great part in Susan’s success.
Influence can come from a position, an audience, through sponsorship, because of credibility, a reputation built over time a relationship with a powerful person and a host of other channels. It can be seen in the way that ideas travel, conversation spreads or things get done. In Susan’s case, per stance and vision gave her a shortcut through the noise. Delivering a solution that raises the bar for competitors is hard to do in our industry. The Marriott game definitely raises the bar.
Susan’s story includes time at Home Depot, Arthur Andersen, the Corporate Executive Board, Ritz-Carlton and now, Marriott. Throughout her journey, she’s published (here’s her Amazon page) and built a side business in career coaching/personal branding.
Recently, Susan focused her external projects into a new company, Exaqueo. In Latin, ex +acqueo means something like ‘standing out from the familiar’.
"Each contender has a chance to step above the fray. Stand out. Get picked. Contenders have to show specific strengths, characteristics and qualities. Ones that are remembered. That’s the essence of a brand. Brands thrive on being unique. On getting noticed. In a good way. In a way that connects the brand with the right customer or the perfect opportunity.
The idea of the company is to deliver powerful competitive advantage to people who are willing to invest in their personal brands.
That’s where Susan shines. From innovation in employment branding technique to personal branding, she is laying the path for the emergence of branding as a discipline that is woven throughout HR.
With the release of the employment branding game, she’s earned her place in the larger industry conversation.
Colin W. Kingsbury is the president and co-founder of HRM Direct, a leading SaaS provider of applicant tracking and onboarding systems to mid-sized organizations. Colin brings a lifetime of experience from both in and outside of the software industry, having previously held positions in product management, software engineering, sales, and as a newspaper journalist with expertise in knowledge automation, and has consulted on technology and business practices for Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Electric, and the US intelligence community. Full Bio
The Seven Habits of Highly-Ineffective Software Buyers
by Colin Kingsbury
To get good at something, it takes practice, and buying software is no different. As a vendor, I’ve had the luxury of watching thousands of customers make a variety of software choices. But while the Web is full of unsolicited advice on how to make good decisions, I’ve noticed a conspicuous lack of information on how to make bad decisions. And since bad decisions are usually easier to make, I thought they deserved an article of their own!
1. Refuse to say who else you’re talking to.
When I ask a customer what other vendors they’re looking at, and they reply, “we’re not disclosing that at this time,” I can hear them thinking, “Ha! That’ll keep him guessing!” And they’re right: It will keep me guessing about what their needs are and whether my product is likely to be a good fit in terms of budget or capabilities. Other buyers think, “If I tell them that, all they’ll do is tell me why the competition stinks” Which they might, and if they do, you can tell them “no thanks.” A good salesperson, representing a good product, will work to draw honest distinctions between her product and the competition’s.
2. Buy the software based on a single demo.
For a long time I was puzzled by customers who would choose a software system to spend the next 2-5 years living with on the basis of a single 45-minute show-and-tell. What I’ve come to think is that many of these buyers appreciate the importance of their choice, but lack confidence in their own ability to make it. It’s no fun shopping for things you feel uncomfortable about, and the natural reaction is to rush into the store, grab the first item that kind of fits, and get out before anyone realizes you don’t belong there. In fact, shopping around is one of the best ways to become educated–and how willing each vendor is to help you now is a leading indicator of the kind of support you’ll get should you choose to buy from them.
3. Make assumptions.
Should you ever catch yourself thinking, “Well, I’m sure this product must be able to do XYZ,” stop and ask the question out loud–the answer may surprise you. Treat every vendor the same, whether they’re the gold-plated market leader or a startup hoping to make you customer #1.
4. Fall in love with a silver bullet.
Over a decade in the software industry has convinced me that the primary market for “exclusive features” is not existing customers, but potential ones. I think it is safe to assume that most of these are either gimmicks of limited utility, or full-chutzpah re-brandings of features everyone else has. This is not to say that all products are the same; rather, that what makes a truly great product is rarely a single “wow” feature but the synthesis of many little ones. Ask yourself how much you’d like the product without that one feature, because that’s probably representative of day-to-day use. And if after all that you still think that feature is essential, ask other vendors on your list what they can offer for that use.
5. Choose based mainly on references.
References aren’t useless. A vendor can usually cough up at least a couple clients to say glowing things. But I strongly believe that clients who focus mainly on vendors with long customer lists in their industry are limiting themselves. Greatness and sustainable competitive advantage come from being more different from your competitors, rather than more similar to them.
6. Compare products using a ruler.
Some buyers place great importance on the length of the feature list, taking it as a proxy for robustness, flexibility, scalability and functionality. If you take five different products that are somewhat well-established in the market, the major differences between them are less likely to be in *what* they do, than in *how* they do it. This is even more true when you consider that most of your usage of the product will likely be in a core set of features which are heavily-covered by most vendors. Put another way, just because two products boast a virtually identical feature set, doesn’t mean you would like them equally.
7. Choose based mainly on price.
There is such a thing as “too expensive;” but there is also such a thing as “too cheap.” There are many ways that software vendors wring out costs, but the two easiest places to cut corners are R&D and client support, neither of which is necessarily good for you as a customer.
Should you find yourself in the position of trying to justify going with a higher-priced vendor, try comparing the cost per user-hour: take the number of users (let’s say 10), the number of hours per day they’ll use the product (4), multiply by the number of working days (240), which gives us 9,600 hours per year. Using that, the cost difference between a product that costs $15,000 per year and $30,000 per year comes out to a whopping $1.56 per user per hour. Another way to look at this is to price the difference in employee-hours based on pay rate. Assuming a full-burden cost of $40 per hour for the team, the $30k package costs 375 man-hours more than the $15k one. With a team of ten people, that works out to just over 9 minutes per person, per day. How many hours of your life have you wasted fighting with software that didn’t want to work the way you wanted it to? By all means take the lower price to your preferred vendor, but make sure to quantify the cost difference for your CFO not just in terms of dollars, but in terms of your most valuable resource: your team’s time.
Last night, I started wondering why Laurie Ruettimann isn’t at the top of all of the influence lists we publish. There’s something wrong with any measure of influence that misses key industry players and their contributions, I thought to myself.
Laurie’s traffic and follower counts are enormous. Any time she takes a position, it creates a conversation. And, she knows, better than almost anyone out there, how to build a conversation into something that’s interesting to read.
And, she’s everywhere.
It’s hard to imagine a more successful social media brand development than the work that Laurie has done over the past several years. She saw the opportunity, got there first, experimented broadly (and continues to) and routinely sets a role model for one form of social media celebrity.
Wondering whether there is something wrong when she’s not on the top of the list seems like a fair question.
I was prompted to think harder about this when I received an invitation to join mBlast, another new service that measures social media influence. Built for Marketing and PR folks, mBlast’s service mPact is designed with all of the reporting and analysis tools you’d need to manage marketing campaigns for and about influencers.
(At least part of the market’s curiosity about influence has to do with consumer buying behavior. The idea is that there are some people whose recommendations the market will follow and that you can identify them by examining their social media footprint. The notion, which works well in the consumer universe, is somewhat less applicable in a B2B setting. Commercial purchasing is not quite as impulse driven as consumer behavior.)
I opened an account on mBlast. Not only wasn’t Laurie on the list, I couldn’t find anyone I’d ever even heard of. The primary categories of Human Resources and Recruiting were completely dominated by voices far outside the industry. With a little tweaking (the service allows very modest filtering), I was able to create a list that included Jessica Miller Merrell and John Zappe along with the swarm of other journalists I’d never heard of.
A search for "Talent Management" on mBlast produced a few familiar names. Josh Bersin, John Sullivan, Jessica Miller-Merrell and John Ingham showed up sandwiched between writers in the general industry press. Still, no Laurie, no Kevin Grossman, no Sarah White, no usual suspects.
mBlast is showing something really important about the HR idea marketplace. It extends way beyond the confines of our little echo chamber. HR issues are critical in all businesses and the general trade press cover unemployment, recruiting, talent management, training, succession planning, compensation, performance management, labor markets, skills deficits, talent wars and a host of HR issues.
They just don’t read the crap from the insiders.
So I don’t wear out my welcome, I’m going to jump straight to the conclusion. The measurement of influence (and the very meaning of that effort) is still in its infancy. In each arena I’ve mentioned (Laurie’s world, the HRExaminer Influence lists, the mBlast service), people are definitely influencing other people. It seems like the closer you get to the core of the industry, the less that keywords capture the essence of the conversation.
So, you might imagine that imagine that three hunks of audience segmentation are beginning to be observed (there are probably many more)
- General Influencers: captured by mBlast. Talk about business issues in consumer publications. The public’s source of insight on key HR issues. These are the influencers you discover when searching through general news.
- Buyer/Silo Influencers: captured by HRExaminer/Traackr Influencer Lists. Very specific clusters of industry jargon as key words. These are the people you will discover in Google when you research a silo.
- User/Practitioner Influencers: not effectively captured yet.
The Laurie Ruettimann case suggests that there is probably a better way to think about some forms of influence.
If I were going to design a tool that effectively captured what Laurie does, it would look at her audience, not her work. Understanding the orientation and professional roles of her audience is the best way of gauging what she is doing. At the practitioner level, the silo specific language disappears and lively conversation takes its place.
It will be another couple of years before the influence measurers can get there.
I love Dave Winer. Here’s how he summarizes the internal development process when big companies go after successful upstarts. If you’ve worked for a bigco, you’ve been to this meeting:
- CTO: We need to kill Facebook.
- CEO: What will we do?
- CTO: It can’t just be Facebook.
- CTO: No one will use that.
- CEO: It has to be better.
- CEO: It has to be something only we can do.
- CTO: Some place where we have the advantage.
- CFO: Something people have no choice but to use.
The approach never works because it’s always an attempt to extend the brand without cannibalizing the cash flow rather than meeting the need. Big companies try it all of the time when they’ve been outmaneuvered. Somehow,’leveraging’ our unique market position ends up meaning coercion and bullying.
In this era of the minmum viable product and agile software development, customers are a part of the formula that makes winning possible. Winer notes that customers were an inherent part of Facebook’s development. For better and worse, the consumer market is completely transparent. Tech companies live and die in public.
It’s amazing to watch the process. 15 years ago, big publishing companies were making the exact same mistake set. Huge expense and great fanfare spelled the end of the era, not the launch of innovations.
LinkedIn is 8 years old. Facebook is 7. Twitter is 5.
What’s different about these bigco offerings?
Jay Cross is a champion of informal learning, web 2.0, and systems thinking. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix. Full Bio
Ridiculous Research Findings on Informal Learning
by Jay Cross
An analyst reports that her company’s research finds that only 30% of U.S. companies spent money on informal learning tools or services last year. Of those, big companies spent $16,000 on average; little ones spent $5600.
What an astounding finding! The only way I can imagine coming up with these absurdly low statistics would be by asking the wrong people.
Most informal learning takes place despite training departments, not because of them. Informal learning is mushrooming as organizations implement social software. It’s hard to imagine informal learning not going along for the ride when a company embraces Jive or Chatter or Yammer or Socialcast or similar networking environments.
My mailbox is already too full. The best I seem to be able to get is about 120 emails behind. Each one of the little wriggling critters is a nagging cry for attention.
I know there are important appointments, deliverables, introductions, opportunities and pieces of wisdom nestled in the quagmire. Every time I look at the pile, I see obligation and responsibility. It’s a time sink and a burden.
I remember when email was a source of joy and inspiration, now it’s a ball and chain. Like Sisyphus, every time I push that damned rock up the hill, it rolls back down and I have to push it up again. It’s overwhelming, frustrating, anxiety producing and guilt enhancing.
Meanwhile the tide of new product launches is accelerating. Shiny new toys are being rolled out for the great party in Las Vegas that is the SHRM conference. (Did anyone else notice the irony of the location?)
Today, my inbox started its own form of acceleration. I joined Monster‘s new BeKnown network last night to stay on top of the flow in social media products. Imagine Foursquare meets LinkedIn on the Facebook platform.
Professional networking with badges and accomplishments.
It’s easy to dismiss the concept as derivative and unnecessary. After all, LinkedIn was there first and turning professional networking into a game could well have unintended consequences. And, who needs another social media time sink?
But that sort of misses the point.
Really, LinkedIn and Facebook are separate markets. Where LinkedIn is an amazing tool for seasoned players who know how to network and what to do when it works, Facebook is a more proletarian universe. Huge swaths of the Facebook audience build personal networks but really haven’t figured out how to harness the process for work creation.
If you were building a business with an eye on the future, you’d certainly want to build lifetime customers rather that trying to convert the existing users of another system. Monster’s play puts a stake in the ground in relatively virgin territory.
The functionality is interesting. Recruiters will have access to another target rich advertising environment with discrete company pages and focused job advertising opportunities. By building on the facebook audience, Monster is admitting that it lost its way in the audience acquisition game while making lemonade out of that lemon.
As you know, I’m deep in the middle of a comprehensive analysis of Social Media’s impact on the HR and Recruiting industry and profession. I’m interviewing over 70 companies and drawing a map of the landscape. While BeKnown is splashy and important, there are a host of other alternatives.
Monster has depth and resources but, like any big company, is less agile than the little scrappy guys. The little guys, though, are more likely to find the magic bullet and execute on it. So, there’s a race of sorts going on.
History does not suggest that big incumbents fare well at inflection points like this.
In Monster’s favor are a deep technical bench and amazing social media brand expertise. Between the brilliant CIO and the high-rolling brand advocates (Eric, Kathy et all), Monster is launching a full on offense. It’s really nice to see. The combination of energy and in-the-market experience offers some hope.
What Eric, Kathy and team have done is the powerful work of great evangelists. The Monster Social Media team has tirelessly worked the recruitosphere building solid relationships in advance of the launch. Monster, who generally get a serious trouncing when they launch new products, has converted the chattering classes into their own brand advocates.
While this is a story of technical features and functionality, it’s also a branding triumph.
But, money is flowing like water into the niche. Well heeled competitors who don’t have to shake off years of reputation and world view aren’t going to sit still. The market is about to get very vibrant.
Meanwhile, my poor aching inbox is beginning to flood with BeKnown mail. I’m sure others will follow.
Here’s some of the other coverage of the subject:
- Jason Buss offers a great deal of insight about why to restrain your enthusiasm on the topic.
- Josh Bersin does a solid Compare and Contrast between LinkedIn and BeKnown
- Fran Zuppan offers the clear thinking of a potential customer
- Irina Shamaeva notes that the real positive is that competition will improve quality
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