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Marriott’s online game is a turning point. The fact that a company would find it interesting to deploy a game for the exclusive purpose of employment branding tells you everything. The entire question of who makes and delivers software and for what purpose has radically changed.
Welcome to the world of apps.
I spoke at length with David Kippen (of Evviva Brands). Kippen and his team ran the employment branding project (Susan Strayer was the Evviva team’s sponsoring client). The project that resulted in the hotel simulation game on Facebook began as an intense exploration of the employment brand problem at Marriott.
The hotel chain has a broad range of brands and operations in most of the world’s cultures with particularly big operations in the Pacific Rim, China, India and Europe. Marriott is one of the most completely global companies in the world. They offer culturally nuanced hospitality everywhere you can imagine.
Building a global employment brand is a question of labor requirements and audiences. The people who do the work in hotels varies by culture. The hoteliers and their housekeeping staffs vary widely from culture to culture. In many places, the people who are likely to be the workforce have no experience in a hotel and no idea of what to expect.
That’s where the game story really starts.
Evviva’s process for building an employment brand involves ethnography. Wikipedia refers to ethnography as the science of contextualization. In plain English, ethnography means understanding your audience before trying to communicate with them. It’s research intensive and a little difficult to forecast when breakthroughs will happen.
(The ethnographic method is used across a range of different disciplines, primarily by anthropologists (Evviva has a polished method developed by their in-house anthropologist) but also frequently by sociologists. Cultural studies, economics, social work, education, ethnomusicology, folklore, geography, history, linguistics, communication studies, performance studies, psychology, usability and criminology are other fields which have made use of ethnography.)
Kippen says the point of using ethnography is to enable the researcher to “walk a mile in the shoes of the people they’re trying to understand.” “Focus groups can be an excellent way to get a superficial understanding. But you can’t bring your clients real value without digging deeper.”
Being a consultant of any kind for a hospitality company means good traveling. As Kippen tells it, he was looking out from the balcony of his hotel room in an Indian resort (as in good traveling but lots of miles). As he looked out at the beach, he saw a small group of people outside of the hotel proper (Indian hotels are all high security places since the bombings). The crowd was looking up at the hotel building.
Kippen asked one of his Indian colleagues what they were doing. “They are really curious about what goes on in here.” Kippen made his way through the various security measures and started exploring the crowd. One of the most interesting things about Evviva’s methodology is that they search for things that are ‘moderately interesting’. If it had been a huge crowd, anyone could have spotted it. Evviva specializes in exploring the little details that build connection and intimacy.
Kippen says, “when you see mildly curious things you should investigate and seek to understand because they’re often the portal to really important insights.”
Over the next couple of weeks, he discovered that the kind of young people who might work in the hotel travel from the countryside to the cities. The work to have enough money to spend an additional six or eight hours a day using facebook and other social media to network for work. Much of the networking begins with social games like Farmville. Once you’ve interacted with someone in a game, you can network to other things. It’s a long and involved process.
These were potential kitchen managers and the kinds of service worker that Marriott needs to survive.
The other problem Kippen discovered was that the hotel industry was perceived as not intellectually challenging and low status. As he began to really understand the potential workforce, the problem became clear. (get it? this is ethnography.)
In a nutshell, the problem was figuring out how to reach social gamers who were networking for work through games while helping elevate the status of the jobs that needed to be filled.
And so, an ethnography component of an employment branding problem led to the creation of a game that simulates the decision making required in a hotel kitchen. The goal of the game in the Indian marketplace was to help get the right-fit talent to see themselves inside the hotel in a marketplace where the security precautions made that difficult. As such, there’s a local effect to the game that’s exceptionally important in an Indian context–even though it works well everywhere.
Paul Hebert is a founding member of the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. As the Managing Director and lead consultant for I2I, an influence consultancy, he guides companies in their alignment of the behavior of their employees with the goals and objectives of the company through incentives and rewards. Full bio…
You Have to Know Where You Are to Get There
by Paul Hebert
I see a lot of discussion in HR about where they want to be.
At the table. Strategic. Important. Critical.
HR folks are great at telling business leaders about the destination.
What I don’t see HR talking about is where they are. The beginning. That is a much harder task – and one that may require real work.
The evidence is pretty solid that human beings are the key component of competitive advantage in today’s working world. We live in an era of ideas and services. Innovation and marketing ensure continued success. These are functions squarely in HR’s wheelhouse. The human capital in your organization is where these capabilities exist. Not in software or other technological initiatives –– but in the hearts and minds of what Scott Adams of Dilbert fame calls your “moist robots.”
From that point of view, it would seem HR is the lever that should move the world. Yet the conversation continues about how to get “there.”
Destinations Are Important
Figuring out where you want to be is important if you eventually want to get somewhere. Fact.
No trip, no quest, ever began without a final destination in mind. Many will argue that HR doesn’t have a great handle on where they want to go and therefore are having trouble getting the CEO and top Execs to line up and march. I don’t think that’s the case.
I believe that HR knows where to go. And I believe CEOs know where they want to go. And I also believe they are the exact same places.
So why is HR still harping on “getting there?”
A Line Requires Two Points.
If I told you to go to Los Angeles could you get there? What if I blindfolded you and dropped you somewhere in the world and didn’t tell you? Sort of an “Amazing Race” in reverse.
Even knowing the specific destination, it would be at best difficult, maybe even impossible, to get to your destination. You not only need to know the destination – you need to know the starting point. That is where I see HR’s weakness.
Where Are You?
Too often in my discussions with HR they are very articulate and passionate about what they want – the outcomes. What they aren’t very articulate about are the starting points and the methods to get to the outcomes.
They don’t know their exact employee demographics. They don’t know what percent are degreed, advanced degreed, non-degreed. They don’t know what skills they currently have.
They can tell you turnover. They can tell you the number of open positions. They can tell you the number of departments and the number of people reporting to other people. But they can’t tell me much about the human capability they have in the organization.
HR can describe the company – but they cannot describe the human beings in the company.
If any HR person is going to get a CEO to listen – and get that oft desired (and then bemoaned) seat at the table – HR needs to very clearly articulate the starting point, the ending point and the path between those two points.
Simply telling folks we need to be more responsive, more innovative, more collaborative – is great. But knowing where you are allows you to begin creating a plan.
Give Me Some Idea You Know WHAT To Do…
CEOs want some idea of a plan. They know the destination. What they don’t know – and need HR to tell them – is “here we are – here’s where we need to be – and here’s HOW we get there.
A plan creates the illusion of certitude. And that’s what people want. That’s what CEOs want.
Go find out where you are now. Nail down the starting point. Then develop the plan that gets you to where you and the CEO want the company to be. Present that to your Executive team and I guarantee you’ll be sitting at the table for a bunch more boring meetings.
Heather Bussing is a California attorney who has represented employers, unions and employees in every aspect of employment and labor law including contract negotiations, discrimination and wage hour issues. While the courtroom is a place she’s very familiar with, her preferred approach to employment law is to prevent problems. Full bio…
Why At-Will Employment Isn’t
by Heather Bussing
An employer gave a year-long maternity leave and guaranteed the job when mom was ready to return– for the first nine kids. But after the tenth, the company figured it didn’t have to hold the position because of its business needs and because the employment was at-will. So it hired someone else and regretfully told the employee she no longer had a job.
Mom sued because the employer had promised she could return to her position and they had let her do it nine times before. The New Jersey court found there was a contract and that the employer’s at-will policy did not apply in this situation. Eric B. Meyer and Nan Sato have a great discussion of the case, Lapidoth v. Telcordia Technologies, Inc., in the Employer Handbook.
The reality is that at-will does not apply to everything about the employment relationship. At-will only applies to how long the employee is employed, and sometimes that the employee can be fired without a specific reason.
Kinds of Employment
There are three basic flavors of employment: statutory, contractual and at-will.
Statutory: Laws, instead of policies, govern people who work for the state and the federal governments. In many states, this includes public school teachers. State and Federal employees usually have probationary periods, for-cause termination and complex schemes of administrative remedies when employment disputes come up.
Contract: On the far end of the contract spectrum are independent contractors who are not employees at all. Then there are union employees where the union and employer negotiate a contract that covers nearly all aspects of the employment relationship.
In non-union companies, employers generally contract with individuals or groups of employees about some parts of the employment like how much they are paid or how much vacation time they get. In addition, employer policies are considered a contract because both the employer and the employee agree to the policies as part of the employment.
At-will: Most states have laws that say unless the employment is for a specified term, it is at-will. At-will employment also means that the employment can be terminated without “good cause”. Lawyers and courts like to say this means, “either party may terminate the relationship at any time for any or no reason.” That’s pretty much bullshit. An employee can quit anytime because they feel like it. But all sorts of things tie the employer’s hands—like discrimination, family leave and military leave laws. And employment policies.
So there really is no such thing as “at-will” employment except for how long the employee decides to stay. From the employer’s perspective, the employment relationship is really a blend of statutory, contract/policy and circumstance.
Policies That Undermine At-Will Employment
When problems arise, the first thing the employer does is point to the employee’s signature acknowledging that her employment is at-will and she has received the policy manual. The manual is full of repeated and varied statements that the employer can fire the employee for anything, at any time.
Except the policy manual usually has at least two policies that are completely contrary to the idea that the employment can be terminated at any time with or without cause.
1. Probationary Periods. If you want to be able to fire employees who don’t work out, why would you give them 90 days to completely screw things up? Have you considered how much damage a bad employee can do in 3 months? So, along with the 90-day probationary period, there is some statement that the employee can be terminated sooner if the employer, in its sole discretion, thinks it’s a good idea. Oh great. Now the employer has to give a reason for terminating the employee sooner than 90 days, which means that paperwork must be generated, files must be kept and decisions must be justified to management and legal. What started out as a bookmark for evaluating the situation after 90 days, just became a legal obligation to keep the employee for 3 months unless there is a good reason not to.
Get rid of probationary periods and just tell the person it’s not working out as soon as you know it’s not working out. Please. It will be better for everyone in the long run.
2. Progressive Discipline. This is where you get a verbal warning, then a written warning, then edicts are issued, then the hall monitor checks your daily pass, then you are referred to the appropriate scary person, then you are suspended, then there is a grievance and appeal process, then you check yourself into rehab to avoid being fired while everyone involved wishes they could go with you. This is not termination at anytime for any reason. This is a contractual procedure that both the employee and the employer have to suffer through. (There are usually the so-bad-its-obvious provisions, but those never turn into lawsuits because they are also the employee’s “F-You” on the way out the door.)
What percentage of employees who are regularly messing up improve and thrive because of a progressive discipline process? Okay, there are always the codependents and the masochists. But the rest either find it demeaning or figure out better ways to hide their mistakes. Give it up.
Get rid of progressive discipline policies. They interfere with managers’ ability to make prompt and effective decisions. And they force everyone through a process that costs time and money and has little or no benefit. Instead, require managers to pay attention, give constructive criticism, encouragement and praise.
If a company wants the benefits of at-will employment—the flexibility to make prompt discipline and termination decisions without a lot of paperwork and procedure—then eliminate policies that interfere with those goals. And don’t make promises, no matter how well intentioned, that obligate the company to provide continued employment.
If you’re freaking out because your policy manual is down to EEO statements, leave & benefits, and how to find the bathroom, here’s a provision you can add. Require all managers to say “thank you” at least 20 times a day.
One of the fatal flaws in the current thinking about “Candidate Experience” is the idea that a good experience is a ‘one size fits all’ sort of thing. Job Ads and the experience that surrounds them have to be relevant to a broad range of lookers with a broad range of emotions, backgrounds and interests.
Imagine the anxiety levels of some one who is desperate to find work and required to sift through a database of a half million job offerings. The combination of tedious work and the desire to get something done is a standard part of the Job Hunter’s Mindset. The Internet amplifies the intensity significantly.
Like cramming for a math final after skipping the class all semester, the active job hunter is faced with a sea of conflicting number one priorities, often without the resources required to effectively fill in all of the blanks. Clarity about the next step, self-confidence (in spite of whatever prompted the need to shift jobs), an orientation of accomplishment and a clear sense of “What Do I Want To Do” are the most basic components of this standard recipe for a nervous breakdown.
That’s right, people who are actively looking for work tend to be scattered and faking it. Otherwise, the layers of embedded conflict would eat them alive.
When you write for this audience (and, by definition, the 6.9% of all Internet users who visit a job site each month are in this category), understand that you are dealing with explosive levels of conflicting value. What feels good is certainty and the ability to relieve the tension.
When job hunters are given the opportunity to examine endless opportunities, what do you think they do? Truth is that after about a dozen thorough readings of job ads, they revert to skimming. The web actively encourages this approach…it’s a skimming medium. Following a skimming phase, the job hunter reverts to reviewing opportunities briefly and punching a resume button in response. It’s extremely Pavlovian.
Under the right circumstances, a job hunter can submit around 600 resumes in a 10 hour day of looking for work. That’s what they tend to do unless you can reach them early on (by getting the data right) with a compelling story (content) about why they should apply to you.
It’s a difficult audience with an extremely high payoff.
The most important thing to remember when crafting advertisements for this group is that they are not “passive”. Delivering ads to a “passive” audience requires an entirely different set of tactics.
In addition to your basic “in the process” job hunter, there are several other audiences you might consider as targets for a job ad. It’s useful to remember that reaching different audiences usually involves the use of different properties. Reaching the active job hunter is easy, thinking about the motivations and web browsing habits of other target audiences is not as easy. The reason that a competitive advantage can be gained by focusing on audiences and the web sites that reach them is precisely the result of the hard work involved.
Picking the target audience is a part of the preparation process for developing an ad.
A general rule of thumb is that the more gainfully employed your target is, the further away
from overt employment sites you want to go.
When thinking about audience reach, you might imagine a scale of receptiveness to an employment
- Desperately Looking
- Worried and Looking
- Frustrated and Looking
- Contractors and Temps
- Layoff Witnesses (Not Looking but Should)
- Planning and Researching (Soon To Be Looking)
- Wanting More Money In Current Job
- Craving More Challenge In Current Job
- Looking To Improve Performance In Current Job (A Highly Desirable Bunch)
- Lifestyle Changes Bring Financial Needs (Frustrated for Non Job Reasons)
- Fast Trackers (Happy in Current Job but Easily Dissatisfied)
- Happy In Current Job
- Working to Pay The Rent
(Isn’t it interesting that the desirability of a potential employee is almost inversely related
to the position on this list?)
While the scale isn’t perfect or complete, it is clear that you would reach out to each segment
with a different message.)
You can further segment the list by profession and geography. Depending on which segment you
wish to reach, you use a different message and (most likely) a different communications
Job Ads have two basic faces, Content and Data. The data is the awful set of details that are a art of filling out a form to have the job entered into an online database. The content is the material that a prospective employee reads. Getting them both right is the key to effective job advertising.
I am constantly astonished by the errors and incompletions that constitute completed job “posting” submissions. The degree to which money is wasted by data entry professionals who do not take adequate time and attention to fill in the required data is simply amazing. There isn’t a recruiting shop that uses online advertising that wouldn’t benefit from a thorough review of the quality of the data submitted to the various job boards and other media outlets.
The simplest way to conduct this sort of internal audit is to create a master list of all of the data fields required by the various services and examine the data that is being submitted in each field. Data quality is, of course, a user responsibility. The job boards can’t help you if you get this wrong
Many problems in a variety of services, from Applicant tracking systems to Job Boards could be easily improved with the addition of software that points out omission or errors and makes useful suggestions for correct completion. Years ago, Net-Temps pioneered this sort of customer service.
Beyond simple completion of the form (and, again, it is amazing how few companies take the time to make their investment payoff by ensuring that this is done), there are a number of decisions to be made in the completion of the data.
For example, the location of the job may well be different than the location of the person placing the ad. Careful attention to the zip code fields is required in this case. Unless you wish to relocate applicants from the place where posting is happening to the place where hiring is happening, don’t use the zipcode of the main plant.
The careful use of keywords in the submission process should improve the chances that your job ad will be seen by a job hunter. After all, submitting a job ad to any large database is a lot like buying a lottery ticket. Their claim will be that your job will be seen. Your task is to improve those odds. Improving your chances is what the data entry component of the process is all about.
More than any trick or technique, the simplest way to ensure the optimal response to your ad is to make absolutely certain that all of the data is getting entered. We wouldn’t be surprised to discover that some of the Job Distribution Services would help you in this regard by feeding back a completion audit.
The one thing you know for sure about most job ads is that calling them an antidote for insomnia is being polite. Badly worded, overly long, failing to adequately describe the opportunity and impenetrable are but a few of the adjectives that describe the norm.
Resume blasting is the appropriate response by job hunters to advertising that wastes their time.
That last point is worth an underscore. Badly written job advertisements set a very bad starting point for a relationship with a prospective employee. By not crafting the ad to make the most of the candidate’s time, the company is saying, in effect, shoddy performance is celebrated in our company. Join us if you aspire to mediocrity.
There is at least some ground for an argument that expects the best written material that comes from a company to be the job ad. After all, it is often the candidate’s first encounter with the operation.
Given that recruiters seem to care so little about the quality of their advertisements, is it really any surprise that they get garbage back?
The meaning of your communication is the result that you get.
The components of a job ad’s content are:
- The Job Title
- The Opening Line (Hook)
- The Opportunity Description
- The Opportunity Requirements
- The Company Description
- The Closing Sell
- The Contact Info
The objective of a job ad is to make the right prospective employee want to submit a resume for consideration. It is, above all else, a sales document designed to elicit very specific behavior from very specific individuals.
The first step in developing a job ad is to gather all of the inputs from hiring managers and HR functionaries. In a reasonably large firm, there will be a standard job description. This is a particularly useful piece of paper. A close and careful reading of the company job description is the best example of what your final output should not look like.
After all of the source data and materials have been collected, the very best thing to do next is write a description of the kind of person who would fill the job well. This “audience description” should describe the ideal candidate demographically, in terms of a range of interests (from reading materials, television programs and musical tastes to hobbies and recreational interests). After all, if you don’t know who your intended audience is, how can you write a message to them.
The underlying message of any job ad is “this opportunity will feel good to you in the way that you like to feel good. From the audience description you’ve just prepared, extract the key points on which you want to connect. Is it the company culture? The challenge in the department? The stability of employment? The autonomy offered the employee? Whatever the key items are, pull them out, express them in three or four word phrases and prioritize them.
A good ad is relatively short and compelling. More than five key messages will cause confusion in the ad itself.
Writing the ad takes time and attention. People who are great at writing three or four paragraphs of compelling sales material take three days at $7,500 a day. People who are good enough can do it in a day or two for $3,000 a day.
People who are not very good at writing often get jobs as Recruiters.
If you can’t write well enough to be a Recruiter, you probably are qualified to write internal job descriptions.
As it is in most intnet based writing, the first two elements are critical. This is where you crab the potential employee’s attention.
The Job Title
It All Starts With The Job Title. This is the place where data and content meet. The title of the Job has to simultaneously meet the needs of the database (no one will ever search for “Director of Fun”) and start the process of selling the job. It’s an intellectual puzzle that would stump the most creative advertising copywriters in the business. The trick is getting a couple of Key Words right and then adding sizzle to the phrase.
If you want to find a “Director of Fun”, you might try a Job Title like: Human Resources Director: Benefits and Perks (Director of Fun) or Organizational Development, Team Building (Director of Fun). The crush of competing job openings is amazing. With hundreds of thousands of offerings in the largest database, you can imagine that the eyes of a job hunter glaze over fairly quickly.
In short, the title of the job has to simultaneously grab attention and hits in the database.
The Opening Line (The Hook)
Once you have them looking at your ad (ie, you have gotten the data and the Job Title right), you have a window of about three seconds (no more than 10 words) in which to grab their attention and start to get them excited. Getting the hook right takes more thinking than writing. It requires a firm grasp of a picture of the ideal candidate, her likes and dislikes. It captures a moment and propels the candidate into the rest of the material.
Unfortunately, the task is harder for smaller companies. For some job hunters, the allure and security of working for a large, well known operation is the competition for attention. As a job ad writer for a small company, the message in the first line has to be doubly attractive. It has to make up for the fact that the larger concerns have implicit employment branding.
Paying deep attention to the mechanics and architecture of the job ad is where real control of candidate flow and workforce quality actually begins.
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