“Willing To Risk Death Daily:” What a Help Wanted Ad Says About a Company

ponyexpIt’s the end of the year and thus, ’tis the season for the annual avalanche of help wanted ads — though the avalanche certainly isn’t what it used to be.

Oftentimes, a help wanted ad will be the first impression a prospect will have of a potential employer. Professional recruiters and expert networkers typically steer job searchers away from applying for positions at companies they’re unfamiliar with and/or at companies where they don’t have any inside contacts. But the fact is, given the continued weakness in the employment market, lots of job seekers believe they have little choice but to cast a wide net.

And that’s why a well-written, transparent, enthusiastic but honest help wanted ad can give the uninitiated candidate a positive first impression. Or reinforce the positive reputation the company has already earned in the mind of the candidate previously acquainted with the hiring entity.

On the other hand, a poorly written help wanted ad, e.g., one that is too vague (what are they hiding?), one where the responsibilities are too broad (unrealistic) or one that over uses phrases like “rock star” and “super star” run the risk of turning off qualified candidates.

I wonder how many corporate HR departments consult with their corporate communications team before publishing a help wanted ad.  It’s clear to me that not enough do.  After all, a help wanted ad is no less a public disclosure of a company’s organizational and investment priorities, or needs, than is a news release.   It gets posted on the company website, makes it way to online job sites like Indeed.com and gets shared from friend-to-friend and from one networking group to the next.  A help wanted ad is visible to investors, business partners and the media.

Two companies, HubSpot, and Vistaprint, really get it.

“We’re trying to build a culture specifically to attract and retain Gen Y’ers,” said Brian Halligan, CEO of marketing software company HubSpot in a recent New York Times interview.

It doesn’t get any more transparent than that.  Halligan’s comment may have turned off a few Gen X’ers and lots of Baby Boomers for sure, though his intent wasn’t to offend.  It was simply to be transparent and honest – better than leading people on.

Halligan is a rarity in the corporate world. Much of the time, organizations leave it up to candidates to wade through job descriptions and a company’s website to hunt for clues they hope will help them determine if they’d be a good fit or not.

Another great example of communications transparency is this job description from Vistaprint, an online supplier of printed promotional material and marketing services to small businesses:

Far from someone who has found a mid-level corporate hiding place, you will be someone ready to lead delivery and take an opportunity to step out of the ‘big company shadow’. … You should have a real or virtual portfolio of examples of work that are away from the norm of ‘managed a newsletter’, or ‘was responsible for the company intranet’.

Vistaprint’s message to candidates is loud and clear: if you looking for the back nine, you won’t find it here.

2014 is on top of us, and that means more help wanted ads will be posted in the next few weeks than any other time of the year.  Companies should borrow a page from HubSpot and Vistaprint’s recruiting handbook and communicate honestly about who they are and who they are trying to attract.  An employer and its reputation, as well as the job candidate, are sure to benefit in the end.

Boston/Cambridge Tech vs. Silicon Valley Tech: Vive La Difference

a-rising-tide-lifts-all-boats1The west and east coasts of the US have drawn competitive comparisons for aboutq as long as they’ve existed. At least that’s how it feels to this extreme east coaster.

Whether you were raised on the west or the east coast, chances are you are passionate about the things that make each coast distinct, the things for which each coast have earned their distinct reputations.  Which coast has the best waves for surfing, the best snow for skiing, the better communities for raising families, the coolest home-grown music? And on and on.

The comparisons grow even more intense when you’re talking tech.  Which coastal universities turn out more talented engineers and entrepreneurs, Stanford or MIT? Harvard or UC at Berkeley Haas School of Business? And is Silicon Valley or Boston/Cambridge spawning more innovative companies?  Which is the best area to do business in?

Well, it really depends on who you talk to and which reports you read.  PandoDaily reporter Hamish McKenzie wrote a widely read article last fall and claimed in it that “Boston is in a rut”  with its “glory days of its enterprise might” behind it.  McKenzie even cited a Startup Genome Report which placed Boston in sixth place on the world ranking for best regions for startups behind the likes of LA and New York.

Strange thing is that here on the east coast, it certainly doesn’t feel like Boston/Cambridge has lost its mojo – at least not as completely as some claim.  Even McKenzie says the view of Boston from Silicon Valley is very different, and that once you get a chance to visit some of the incubators and the community of entrepreneurs working in places like the Cambridge Innovation Center where there’s almost always a waiting list for office space, you’ll feel the vibrancy and sense of urgency.

I wouldn’t say McKenzie is bullish on Boston’s chances for improving its position in the next Startup Genome Report.  But he does concede that the region “is in the process of bolstering a robust ecosystem strong enough to stop its slide down the rankings.”

As a dyed in the wool east coaster, I’m bullish on the region’s tech scene stopping its apparent slide and also on Boston fighting its way back to its rightful position as the clear no. two tech town in the US.

And I don’t stand alone on this.  Take, for example, Mark Held, the CEO of startup Weft. Held recently relocated his firm from San Francisco to Boston citing the areas ecosystem of enterprise tech startups, the talent graduating from area colleges and universities and the quick commute to NYC.

“Boston is where you go when you want to build a real company with revenue (as opposed to another social thing).  The Silicon Valley startup culture isn’t sustainable — we want to be around for a long time and the culture out west isn’t conducive to that,”  Held told the Boston Business Journal.

At a recent unConference in Boston, Pam Burton, who heads up the east coast office in Gloucester, Mass., for Accelent Consulting, has worked on both coasts and says, “The tech community here seems a lot more open and accessible, and really focuses on attracting investment and companies to be successful in Massachusetts in a more organized and powerful way than what I saw over there.”

Burton said that if a tech company founder doesn’t come out of a well known company or school, then getting attention on the west coast is harder.

Echoing Burton in the Boston Business Journal, Cathy Wissink, director of Microsoft’s tech community outreach division in Cambridge and a recent east coast transplant, said, “The energy here is remarkable in terms of startups, venture capitalists and innovation” and emphasized the big number of students engaged in the Boston tech scene.

Boston/Cambridge tech or Silicon Valley tech?  East coast vs. west?  Well, it’s a silly debate and we really don’t have to choose, do we?  When both do well, everyone wins. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Boston to Bill Maher: A Simple Apology Gets You off the Hook

A simple apology, done with meaning and quickly — like today — gets comic/satirist/political commentator/HBO “Real Time” host Bill Maher out of a jam for his rather thoughtless comments last Friday about the Boston Marathon bombings.

You’ve likely heard by now how Maher, on his HBO talk show “Real Time,” seemed to minimize the physical and emotional toll last April’s bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon had on the region.

Perhaps it’s just because he doesn’t live here, but Maher completely failed to grasp how the Boston Red Sox and the team’s unlikely and successful march to and through the World Series helped to pick up a grieving region and accelerate the healing process.

When a few Red Sox players placed the World Series trophy on the Boston Marathon finish line during the team’s victory parade a few of weeks ago, it was if the region’s stages of grief and suffering had come full circle.

But Maher doesn’t see it that way. Instead, he said that while the day of the bombings was a “bad day, three people died, that’s terrible.  More were maimed <Bill, it was actually 264 maimed>, that’s horrible, but unfortunately that happens every day, in car accidents and everything else.  I mean, your city was not leveled by Godzilla.”

He’s been criticized for his comments by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, by a number of newspapers (here’s a taste of what the far right is saying), and on Twitter by even the most fervent of Boston fans, like this one..

Jessica Britt ‏@jmacbritt14 Nov

@billmaher, love you, but disappointed by boston marathon comments. Parade route was where bombs were, meant a lot to our city…..

So Bill Maher gets paid to be controversial, like a shock jock.  On this particular issue, though, he overstepped the bounds of decency.  But I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt on his miscue — that he didn’t mean what he said and that he regrets it.

Tonight at 10 p.m. ET, Maher is on live TV again.

It’s Maher’s chance to redeem himself. A simply apology will do.

Rebuilding a City’s Reputation, Brick by Brick

BrickIf the out going mayor of the city of Lawrence, Mass. thought about Warren Buffet’s famous quote on reputation — “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” — then William Lantigua might have done things differently.  Maybe.

For nearly four years Lantigua has been the mayor of the besieged city of Lawrence and its 80,000 souls squeezed into a puny seven square miles that sit just south of the New Hampshire border in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts.  For several decades leading up to the middle part of the last century, this once proud urban center was a leading manufacturer and exporter of textiles and a significant wool processing center.  Its glory days came to a rather abrupt end in the 1950’s when the need for cheaper labor moved to the southern states.

Since then, the city has endured decades of fits and starts; effort upon genuine effort by buoyant officials who would begin their elected terms with bright promise and optimism only to find that once the celebrations and the honeymoon were over that most were in over the heads.  Leading a city like Lawrence, better known recently for its high unemployment, poverty, gang violence, a beleaguered school system and corruption among city officials than it is for being a great place to raise a family or start a business, isn’t a job for the faint of heart or the inexperienced.  Ask the parade of mayors who preceded Lantigua. While one can easily argue about the success of their administrations, it’s more difficult to argue about whether their hearts were in the right place or not.

However, the same can’t be said for Lantigua or his administration during which ….

  • he was sued by the state’s attorney general for allegedly violating campaign finance laws,
  • his former chief of staff and deputy police chief, appointed by the mayor, faced criminal corruption charges,
  • a close ally was found guilty of bribery, obstruction of justice among other charges, and,
  • his ex-campaign photographer was indicted for allegedly stealing proceeds from the city’s parking garage where he worked.

Earlier this week, following his failed elected bid for another four years as mayor, Lantigua repeatedly refused to address the election results in any great detail, instead letting his lawyer do most of the talking.

Lantigua has almost single-handedly tarnished the reputation of a city that was trying OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmightily to fight its way back.  He has scared away investors, long time homeowners, and businesses.

Now he has what is perhaps the biggest decision of his life to make. Does he demand a recount from this week’s election which he lost to challenger Daniel Rivera by a mere 60 votes?  Does he dig in his heels and drag the city though the angst of an unresolved election?

Or does he, just this once, have what it takes to truly lead and begin to rebuild his own tainted reputation by conceding the election, congratulating Rivera and leading the smoothest possible transition from his administration to the next so that the city of Lawrence can pick up where it left off four years ago?

It’s up to Lantigua on how he wants to be remembered.

David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s Timeless Leadership Lessons

COV_BigPapi(5)From the Boston Globe to USA Today to SportingNews.com, writers across the country are paying tribute to David “Big Papi” Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox (my home town team) for his on-the-field heroics.  At age 37, Big Papi is tearing up the MLB’s best pitchers and as one scribe reports, is “turning back the clock.”  And never at a loss for words, the Sox slugger responds with just the right hint of humility: “I’m the dinosaur here.”

That’s just Big Papi being Big Papi.

The fact of the matter is that Ortiz is anything but a dinosaur.  He’s a player a few scouts said was on the decline just a couple of years ago.  But he’s also a player who since then has essentially reinvented himself by making the training room his off-season home, by burning off his love of the good life by running laps in the park, and by turning to a healthier diet … and then by letting his bat do the talking on the field.

This week, Ortiz is leading his team to (hopefully) its third World Series championship in 10 years. But it’s not only his behavior on the field that has earned him leadership status. It’s also what he says and does off the field, whether it be in the club house with his teammates, in the training room building strength, in front of the cameras talking to fans after a game, or his off-camera work with charities, that make him a role model for corporate leaders.

Here are four Big Papi traits execs sitting in mahogany row can learn from:

Lead by example.  Big Papi doesn’t just talk about wanting to win.  He properly prepares and rehearses to flawlessly execute his plan.  He works harder than most to be the very best at his job and when he sees his skills beginning to deteriorate, he goes back to drawing board (the batting cage in his case).  He never asks his teammates to work harder than he’s willing to.  He simply sets the bar and then hurdles it.  Simple.

Leaders as change agents who inspire.    First a leader has to be trusted by his/her employees (or team).  It’s the same with customers. Customers trust people and not necessarily companies.  It’s only when trust is established that a leader can become a change agent.  Remember how the Red Sox responded in game four of the World Series following Big Papi’s inspirational dugout pep talk mid-game?  “David Ortiz rallied us together,” said teammate Johnny Gomes following the Red Sox win.

Strong leaders choose their words carefully.  Great leaders understand the power of their words and their tone.  A CEO addressing a struggling organization at a company meeting can galvanize or demoralize the troops.  A confident “we will overcome these challenges together and here’s the plan” delivery always trumps a punitive one.  Last April 20, on the heels of the Boston Marathon bombings, Big Papi “unofficially” reclaimed the City of Boston for its residents with his famous Boston Strong speech at Fenway Park. He delivered the right words with the right tone at just the right time.

Great leaders wear their passion on the outside for all to see.  Steve Jobs.  Tony Hsieh.  Jeff BezosRichard Branson.  CEOs known for their passion.  Name a professional baseball player who loves (and has as much fun) what he does as much as David Ortiz?  His passion, like that of Jobs and others, is absolutely contagious.

Any ideas for other Ortiz leadership traits that corporate leaders should emulate?

Go Sox!

Time for Global B2Bs to Ditch the Herd Mentality

survivorU_following_the_herdNavel-gazing sessions and working at a big B2B company have always gone hand-in-hand. But it looks like many of the big B2Bs are getting it all wrong when it comes to brainstorming key messages and positioning statements that will resonate with their customers.

You might say, as did the Captain in the movie classic Cool Hand Luke, to Luke:  What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate.

According to an in-depth B2B brand building study by McKinsey&Company involving Fortune 500 and DAX 30 companies and over 700 executives across six sectors, many of the brand messages customers value most are least mentioned by the companies they buy from.

A few highlights from the survey that are worth calling out:

  • there’s little connection between a brand’s influence on its customers and themes such as social responsibility, sustainability and global prowess – yet these are key themes that many global brands use in their positioning statements
  • brand themes that customers value most — “effective supply chain management and specialist market knowledge” — are rarely mentioned by the companies, and this little beauty…
  • the brand theme customers consider to be most important from their suppliers is “honest and open dialogue.”  But sadly this theme was not emphasized at all by the 90 companies included in the survey’s final sample.

What the…?

Several years ago at a navel-gazing session I participated in while working at a global PR agency, we looked at the key messages and positioning statements of our five largest competitors.  The team was asked to review the brand themes and key messages of the competing global agencies and to compare them with those of our firm.

As you might imagine, it was difficult to determine one firm from the next.

The follow the herd mentality is also prevalent, it turns out, among global B2B companies. According to the survey:  our analysis showed a surprising similarity among the brand themes that leading B2B companies emphasized, suggesting a tendency to follow the herd rather than create strongly differentiated brand messages.

The McKinsey authors — Tjark Freundt, Sascha Lehmann and Philipp Hillenbrand — give props to the IBM Smarter Planet branding campaign as a truly differentiating effort, one that communicated distinct and powerful external and internal themes that connected with the company’s range of key stakeholders — marketing, sales and R&D employees, customers and other influencers.

For an excellent and recent overview of the IBM campaign, check out Edward Boches’ postBoches, a partner at Mullen, calls Smarter Plant “a perfect case study for any of us working on comprehensive brand content programs as it has all of the components…”

As the folks at McKinsey advise, global B2B companies would be wise to closely monitor shifts in their markets and among their customer base and work harder to better align their brand themes with the changes.

Boches points out that while most companies aren’t capable of producing a campaign as grand as Smarter Planet, it remains “a solid example of taking a core business idea and bringing it to life in the form of lots of little ideas, distributed content, attention generating experiences, utility and platforms, and social engagement that invites participation.”

Note to AOL’s Tim Armstrong: “The Apprentice” Is Staged

reputation-management-300x203It’s official:  AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said 350 of its Patch.com employees will be fired and an additional 150 will likely lose their jobs by October.  Apparently, the employees were notified American Idol style, with the winners notified in one room and the losers huddled in another.

Armstrong, a co-founder of the struggling and unprofitable Patch.com, composed of 900 local news web sites, alerted employees and investors just over a week ago that he would be shutting down about one-third of his sites.  Since then, employees have been just waiting for the ax to fall even though Armstrong hinted at an all-employee meeting on Aug. 9, during which he also opted to publicly chastise and fire another Patch.com executive, that he might be able to save everyone’s position.

Wishful thinking.

Guess what?  I wasn’t the only one critical in a post of Armstrong’s handling of the communications around Patch’s woes.  In “What CEOs Can Learn From AOL’s Tim Armstrong’s Awful Week,” I called out Armstrong’s lack of humanity, his ambiguity and his otherwise Draconian handling of the situation — all of which could have been avoided with the right counsel.

There’s no doubt that Patch.com’s financial situation requires urgent and decisive leadership, action and clear direction.  But in his communications to employees, Armstrong ignored all five of the key elements to preserving a CEO’s reputation: honesty, respect, care, integrity and humility.

Here’s what a few “reputation communications” experts are saying about Armstrong’s handling of recent events including his “Apprentice” style firing of Patch.com executive Able Lenz for taking this photo during the all employee meeting/conference call on August 9:

It looks like big business being a bully,” said Jim Webber, who conducts workplace training and runs a human resources advice blog called Evil Skippy at Work.

Ron Ashkenas, a senior partner with Shaffer Consulting, Stamford, Conn., said: “If he was trying to make himself out like Donald Trump, then this isn’t the way to do it. ‘The Apprentice’ is a staged television show.

And from Bill Murphy, Jr., an ex-Washington Post reporter and author of “Breakthrough Entrepreneurship”: “Dramatic firings can be useful, but impetuous moves overshadow everything. The way you handle this decision reflects the kind of leader you are.”

What impact do you think Armstrong’s communications approach will have on his reputation?  If you need a reminder of how Armstrong handled the all-employee meeting, here it is again.