The Interview That Doesn’t Suck.

If human talent is the killer app in our industry, why do we suck so badly at attracting, evaluating and retaining the best people?  And how does a flawed candidate manage to slip through the interviewing gauntlet that you and the rest of your management and HR team have set up?  Clearly these are huge topics worthy of books, not blog posts.  But I’ve never met a topic that I couldn’t try to oversimplify, so here goes:

Your interviewing process is misguided, your execution is awful and you’re focusing on all the wrong things.  But please, let me elaborate…

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Interviews are Not about Fact-finding:  Make your minimum standards on skills and experience clear to your HR team or recruiter.  Then leave the candidate’s resume in your desk.  Too many interviews end up being about the facts on the page (“…so you worked at AOL?”)  You’re wasting a lot of time confirming data points, which could be better spent on higher order discussion.

Focus Instead on Understanding the Candidate’s Process:

  • Tell me about an important deal or achievement at your last company:  what would not have happened if you hadn’t been part of it?
  • Tell me about the last time you had to deliver really bad news to a customer:  how did you handle it and where did things end up?
  • Tell me about a time when you’ve had to manage conflict with someone in your organization:  were you able to turn the situation around?

Seek Beliefs and Core Values:  The best hires and most-durable employee relationships are always built on the overlap between what a candidate believes and what the company stands for.  But we learn very little about what our candidates truly believe because we don’t ask.

  • Tell me something you believe in very strongly that’s not about religion or family.
  • Looking out at the next 10-15 years of our industry, what’s a trend or behavior that you’d bet your career on?

Stop Acting Like Lawyers:  (Please no hate mail from the Bar Association.) If you ask a dozen lawyers to review a document or agreement, each will find something to disagree with or object to.  Likewise, if you subject your candidate to a dozen different interviewers, each will only feel valid or whole if he or she finds a flaw.  First cut down on the number of interviewers; after a certain number, the evaluation doesn’t get bigger, it gets worse.  Second, make it OK for other interviewers to say “neutral” or “nothing to add.”

This is Not a Democracy:  Try to get everyone to agree on a candidate and you’ll end up with a very safe, very vanilla, compromise candidate.  No edge, nothing strong, nothing special.  Agree ahead of time who “owns” the hire and who he/she should truly consult with. (Hint:  who will be economically dependent or physically close to the new hire?)

Listen for Intent:  There’s one more thing we also fail to ask potential hires:  Do you want to work here?  Of course it’s probably not smart to signal your own intent to hire this person, but you can certainly find out whether they’re really into you – of if you’re just “one of their safety schools.”

  • We’re not there yet, but if it all came together tomorrow and the package and responsibility lined up, would you jump at the chance to work here?

Notice that this is the only “yes or no” question I’ve suggested.

I’ll be eager to hear how your next interview goes.  Happy hiring.

This post originally ran in 2014.  Unfortunately too many interviews still suck.

Why They Stay… Why They Go.

Why They Stay Why They GoThe good news: statistically only 13% of your digital sales workforce is actively looking for another job.  The bad news? Over 50% of your people are open to something new.  And the reasons they’d give for taking that offer or staying put may not really reflect the reality of the decision.

These are just a couple of the top-line findings of “Why They Stay, Why They Go: The Upstream/SellerCrowd Mobility Study.”  Clay Gran of SellerCrowd and I presented some of the data and conclusions at this week’s Seller Forum in New York, and they challenge some of the conventional wisdom around employee retention.  We’ll release the data formally soon, but this post will give you a sneak peek.

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When we asked front-line sellers which three factors would most likely affect their decision to stay with or leave a company, the most cited reasons were “compensation and goals” “culture/work environment” and “product quality,” in that order.  OK, that seems predictable enough.  But when we asked those actively looking for new jobs (13%) about their current companies, they rated them “poor” on upward mobility (43%) and management quality (41%).  And there was daylight between these and the next set of concerns.

So what were those who called themselves ‘secure and happy’ (32%) most happy about at their current companies?  Across most categories of sellers, “product quality” shot to the top of the list, along with management quality and transparency/honesty.

What does it mean?  The short answer is that people stay because they perceive that your product (and by extension, your company and processes) works.  But if they’re looking, they’re dissatisfied with how they (or the company at large) are being managed and don’t see themselves getting to a level where they can make a difference.  They stay with products and quit managers.

There were a lot more interesting data points and directions, but one jumps out:  The Danger Zone.  You might anticipate that during a seller’s first year on the job, there’s a honeymoon period.  Indeed there is:  46% of sellers describe themselves as secure and happy during year one, and only 9% are having buyer’s remorse and are actively looking. What you might not suspect is just how radically things change in year two:  happiness/security drops off by half (23%) while active job seeking more than doubles (20%).  So at the exact time when you’d be counting on a seller to hit their true productivity window – for your investment to start paying dividends — you are in the most danger of losing them.   Maybe you’re paying too much attention to onboarding and not enough to keeping your best people from going overboard during the choppy seas of year two.

To learn more about the study, contact me or Clay Gran at SellerCrowd.

Six Questions: Wenda Harris Millard

Six Questions with WendaWenda has been my client, collaborator and friend for nearly 20 years, and is one of the most connected and influential people in the world of digital media, marketing and technology.  As President and COO of MediaLink, she advises scores of companies on the nuance and power balance in today’s landscape.  On Tuesday March 4th, she’ll be our keynote interview at The Upstream Seller Forum in New York.

Doug Weaver:  Last year during interactive week you were one of the first industry leaders I heard use the word “fraud.”  How big a problem is this and what can ad sellers and publishers do about it?

Wenda Harris Millard:   Fraud is one of the most serious issues facing digital media and marketing today.  It takes many forms – content theft, suspicious activity, clutter (ad collisions), non-viewable inventory and inappropriate content like hate speech and porn.  In all its forms it devalues digital media.  It’s a big business, not a cottage industry, and it’s harming consumers, content providers and marketers.  Just today the Digital Citizens Alliance published a report on work my MediaLink colleagues and I conducted over the last few months on content theft:  “Good Money Gone Bad:  Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business.”

DW: You led Yahoo! sales during a very good time.  Can the portals of that era – Yahoo!, Aol and MSN – play a critical role in an era dominated by Google, Facebook and Amazon?

WHM:  I believe they can if they focus on primarily on two things:  best-in-class utility offerings and high quality content.  Their roles will be different, but I wouldn’t rule out a comeback for these companies despite how much the competitive landscape has changed.

DW: Tell us three simple qualities that define a great leader in today’s digital landscape.

WHM:  Be curious about everything.  Look outward, not inward.  Never underestimate the consumer or your customer.

DW: Is there a red herring in our world?  What are we spending far too much time talking about?

WHM:  Big data…Enough!  Of course data is critical to almost every aspect of digital media and marketing.  But it’s not the data in and of itself that we should focus on.  It’s the derivative of that data – the insights – that matter. Consumer behavioral insights are what marketers want more than anything else.  Those insights are what should matter most to publishers, agencies, marketers and all the other players across the landscape.

DW: It’s clear that talent continues to be a major issue for our business.  What other industries or backgrounds should we be looking to raid?  We can’t keep going after the same 300 veteran media sellers, can we?

WHM:  As an industry we certainly need to bring in the data scientists, the statistics PhD’s, the mathematicians. We need engineers and product development people who want to build solutions for problems that actually exist – not the self-indulgent ones we’ve spent too much on already.  But looking to other industries for transferrable talent has not historically been part of our media and marketing world.  No, we cannot keep going after the same veteran media sellers; the skill sets we need today are very different than just ten years ago.  The combination of technical proficiency and the ability to read and connect with an audience and tell a great story – well, that’s a highly unusual individual.  But we live in a world of “and” now, not a world of “or.”

DW: Investors have their own way of determining value.  But what creates lasting value for a company in the digital landscape? What will define the companies that are still valuable and vital in 10 or 20 years?

WHM: Four things:  First, talent is everything so hire the very best and constantly trade up.  Second, culture will define your success, so pay attention to what you nurture and celebrate.  Third, being comfortable is dangerous, so constantly challenge everything. And finally, navel-gazing and looking in the mirror for answers is death.  You don’t have the answers; your customers, employees and others do.  Get over yourself!

There are a small handful of seats remaining for The Seller Forum.  If you’re a qualified CRO, EVP, SVP or VP of sales and would like to attend, contact us today.

The Walking Wounded.

Two weeks ago in the Drift I invited readers who’d changed jobs in the past two years (or thought they might in the next six months) to participate in our “Exit Interviews” poll .  With this short five-question survey, we aimed to find out why they left and what might have induced them to stay longer.  Clearly, we struck a nerve with:  within 72 hours 102 digital sellers and 32 sales leaders (CROs, EVPs, etc.) completed the survey.  And while I’ll sharing the full results with attendees at tomorrow’s sold-out Upstream Seller Forum, there’s one big theme I want to pass along to Drift readers this afternoon.

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The conventional wisdom in our tight digital labor market is that with so much crazy money flying around it’s nearly impossible to hang onto good sellers – or even middle of the pack performers.  “We just can’t compete with the insane salary and stock packages that are being offered” is a common rationalization.  But when asked to choose “the best description” of why they chose to leave their former company, only one in five – 21.6% — chose “Got a much better offer.”  A much bigger percentage –36.2% of respondents – said they left because of an obsolete business model, unattainable goals or both.  (Let’s call this grouping “Lack of Belief.”)   A whopping 40.2% of respondents left due to a lack of clear management direction, internal conflict with managers or co-workers, or both.  (We’ll call this grouping “Failure of Management.”)   To be fair, in a portion of these cases the company itself – or its market space – may have actually been collapsing.  In other cases, the respondent who left may have been “welcome attrition.”  But you can’t deny that a whole lot of good people left good companies for reasons other than money:  either because they weren’t connected or engaged with where the company was going, or because their managers failed to give them good direction or intervene appropriately around conflict.

I’d like to call these disengaged, lightly managed sales people “the Walking Wounded.”  Looking back over the attrition on your team, how many might you have lost over the past couple of years?  What if you’d kept them all for just six more months of productive selling?  Since losing a seller usually involves a six-to-nine-month period of transition and reinvestment, the financial impact of all these unnecessary and premature departures is appallingly costly.

As my good friend and mentor Mark McLaughlin commented here  two weeks ago, “People join companies but they leave managers.”  Money may talk, but lack of management insight or action may be what’s ultimately making them walk.