Friday, March 27, 2009

What defines a person?

I've often pondered this.

Now, while I studied philosophy, I'm no Plato ("NOOO! Really?").
And, besides, this blog really isn't for forum for delving into discussions about the soul and the brain, or the date at which a bunch of cells becomes human.
Yeah, I'm going to relate this to employment again.
You see, in my last job, I reckon I was perceived as somewhat of an introvert. I think it was possibly a perception picked up by the role I had (I work with a lot of stats, I was considered an 'expert' in an area, there were lots of big personalities all around).
In my current job, there's no way anyone sane could even consider it - such a loud, brash, opinionated show-off I am. Ok, maybe not that bad, but I definitely walk around the place, look for a bit of banter, and let people know I'm there - I draw the line at kissing babies.
So what's brought about this change in perception? I'm still that same. Aren't I?
Maybe I'm not.
Maybe this fantastic country that has given me such a wonderful lifestyle has shaped my personality. Perhaps the practical optimism inherent in the people here brings different parts of my psyche to the forefront. Perhaps a landscape and a people have shaped the way I behave and the way people perceive me.
Or maybe it's the culcha of stra'ya that just means I fit in a bit better.
Best stay put then.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Personality quiz

As the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) serves to tear strips off our industry, the services we're offering at my advertising agency are changing.

One area is Career Transition Management. This is a support service that employers pay us for - it gives their retrenched employees on-going coaching and support through the next steps of getting back to work.

The benefit to employees is obvious; the benefit to employers is that it helps retain their employer brand. Nothing hits a brand worse than being seen as a heartless, faceless, uber-corporation. People who leave can still talk positively about the organisation.

Another area is in deployment - this means finding people within a business with transferable skills, and helping transfer them to areas where their skills may be better utilised. This results in a more productive business, and reduces the need for reducing overall headcount.

But how do you measure the types of personality that may transfer from, say, marketing to sales? One really cool tool is here - try it out and see what sort of person you are.

(BTW, I am a Field Marshal, quite unsurprising).

All jobs are boring

While having a delightful dinner and drinks with a couple of clients last night, I shuddered to hear one of our party, an HR professional no less, say:
Well, all jobs are by their nature boring. Humans just aren't made to do the same thing day-in, day-out. Nobody is really satisfied by their job.
Which got me thinking; is this really the case? Can it really be true that no job can ever be truly fulfilling, no matter what it is? Does everyone, a child carer, a surgeon, an astronaut, eventually get bored of the view out of his or her window?

I notice that over the nine or so years I've been in the workforce, I generally haven't worked anywhere longer than about 2.5 years. This hasn't been a conscious decision, but I've noticed that there is a commonality in theme - I do seem to reach a point at any organisation where I become bored by routine, so off I pop to try something a bit different.

And I think that it's this routine and repetition that is the largest contributing factor to workplace boredom. If I took the same route into work every day, did the same tasks, and had the same lunchtime ritual, my creativity would seep away and my development would stagnate.

I saw the owner of a cafe sitting glumly at one of his tables this lunchtime. I thought there must have been a time when he dreamt of opening a cafe, serving beautiful food to pleasant customers. Perhaps he's been worn down by the inevitable grind of small tasks, as well as the challenge that goes with keeping a city cafe profitable.

But rather than continue down this melancholy fairy tale (I've made up everything in the story above), the point I'm coming to is that situations such as these can be avoided by good planning and a positive mindset. For example, when looking at tasks, it's much better to always be thinking about new and better ways of doing something - rather than just something you need to get done and out the way.

I'm a great believer in the cognitive model of emotional response (that you can control your thoughts to influence the way you act and feel).

I like increasing profitability, reducing complexity, organising people, creating systems, and selling solutions. Sometimes parts of these things make for a dull day, but it's the mindset you use when you approach them that determines how interesting or rewarding you find them.

So, sure, the work's the same, but if you're always looking to improve, why would you ever get bored?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stanwell Park Ocean Swim

Readers of this blog might be aware I'm a pretty keen ocean swimmer. This weekend, I did one in Stanwell Park, which is near Woolongong.

You can just about make out the first beach on the left, and the destination beach a bit further out. We took this photo after the event, but there are buoys/cans to guide the way, and you have to swim quite far out in order to avoid the rocks.

The currents were against us, but I still came 4th out of over 400 competitors - next time I'll try to make up those critical few seconds for the $300 winner's cheque.

Ocean swims are absolutely awesome events - and, with the spate of recent dorsally-based news events, its profile has grown immensely. However, compared to other sports, it's statistically safe and it has a rather unique character. It's a community-based initiative, with colourful participants of all ages, an enjoyable atmosphere, and you get to swim in and enjoy some of Australia's most beautiful coasts. Surf Life Saving provides water safety and swimmers are well aware that they enter the water at their own risk.

It raises money for the surf club that hosts it, and most swims are relatively inexpensive (note, the huge Cole Classic is a behemouth of an event, it's the City2Surf of ocean swimming - and therefore one of the pricier and busier swims. There are loads of other options that they don't put on their website but you can find at

Just like seeing a good band in a small venue, I advise anyone to do some pool training and then one of the small, scenic ones - you won't regret it. Plus, you get to wear really small swimmers and hang out with other like-minded people... If that doesn't entice you, nothing will.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Internal comms in a downturn - the right way

After speaking to a mate of mine that works at a bit ol' multinational employing thousands of people, my heart was brightened to learn that some employers (well, his at least) are getting it right. (Click here to hear my previous vent on this topic.)

Are they listening to their people? Tick.
Are they acting on feedback? Tick.
Are they communicating in a way that's attractive to the employee? Tick.
Are they putting visibile action plans in place? Tick.
Are changes executed by people who can make them? Tick, tick, tick.

All the initiatives my mate mentioned will no doubt help him build a more satisfied and engaged workforce. Not every irk will be actioned, but at least it's been vented. And there's no underestimating the knock-on effect of John returning from lunch and telling his mates, "Those guys really listened, and they took it all on-board."

But what's really key to good communication is that employers see the world through their employees' eyes, and every communication adopts the principle of addressing some employee need, before looking at another objective. It doesn't mean every piece of communication has to be exactly what the employee wants, or that you're not allowed to communicate bad news. But it does have to address the knock-on effects of that piece of news and address the anticipated results.

The worst mistake an employer can make is by thinking that it's all about communicating, from the top to the bottom, what the board wants everyone in the canteen to hear.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Giving great advice

I reckon I'm really really good at giving advice.

If something isn't going very well for someone, I really think I know what will turn their negative into a positive, that will move them forward constructively - that will make them see the light at the end of an challenging, yet ultimately personality-building tunnel.

I just feel I'm the kind of person who does this really well.

But I've noticed that, more and more, I'm really not that good at talking myself into following advice I would give myself if I was, well, someone for whom things were not going well.

If you're not following me (and who could blame you), let me give you an example: Say you found out you had some illness. You were a bit down about it, so I'd probably say lots of positive things about the high likelihood of a fantastic return to normality and what a person you would grow into. But what I'm now saying is, I realise that the only reason I can say this, is because I'm not you, and you're not me.

On a personal level, I recently found out I had something wrong with me. There is a small chance it could kill me, but I caught it, am treating it, and it isn't likely to now. I would have said to anyone in my position: "Don't read horror stories on the internet. Most of it is disinformation, from worst-case-scenarios, unscientific, or simply really unlucky people using the internet cathartically. It's there to scaremonger."

But, of course, I did check the internet. And I didn't listen to me, when I tried to have a stern conversation with myself to tell me what I was doing was wrong.

So, on an individual level, emotions can take over. But what about in business? Ever noticed how often we refer to the I'm not you, and you're not me principle?

I wonder how many readers who work in PR, advertising or marketing, when they go to work, advise their clients on something that's not going well. I bet you, like me, promote some kind of best practice initiative, explain why it will benefit said client, and why the investment is oh-so-very important. But, critically, when we give this advice, it's with the facial-capillary-widening knowledge that the business we work for, doesn't do the precise thing we advise for our client. I know I'm as guilty as anyone.

It's the same as the guys that sell books or services on how to make a killing in the stock market. Since I assume they listen to their own advice, they must all be ravenously rich, I must thank them, really, for sparing some time to so magnanimously share their secrets.

I bet they never let emotions get in the way of good judgement. I bet they always listened to their own advice. I bet they wouldn't get caught jumping on the internet to check out some scare stories.

Or really, are emotions more at play here than anywhere else?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


While we're on the topic of working for the security services, how about this for a bizarre case of alleged discrimination?

The chap in the picture is suing Mi5 in the UK for not giving him a job, on the basis that he is partly paralysed.

Before I get on my high horse, I have a fair amount of sympathy for this guy's plight. He's obviously had a torrid time, and I'm sure if he was in good health, he would have been seriously considered.

But then, he didn't apply for the job when he was in good health.

He's applied for the job now that he can't meet one of the basic requirements.

In fact, his health must be so bad that I assume he cannot perform his former job of a bus driver. But he thinks it reasonable that, now he cannot be relied upon to drive a bus to get people to work on time, he should be entrusted with an integral part of the security of the United Kingdom.

Now, I know a bit about this role. And I know that driving is a really, really key part of it. I'm sure you could take public transport sometimes, but this wouldn't really work if you had to tail someone all day and hang around in various places watching - and this all had to be kept secret.

I've read up on his condition, and it seems that for most people the symptoms are temporary. I sincerely hope the same for Mr. Suleman. I am only disappointed that the publicity he has generated will now rule him out when the job applications open again - because I am certain a man of such passion would clearly have tried again when he was better.

While we wait and see, my next job application: professional footballer. And, by jeesus, if Manchester United discriminate against me for my lack of balls skills, dodgy knee, and disregard for the offside rule, then there'll be hell to pay.

Grad recruitment kicks off

A number of our clients are doing the rounds at the graduate recruitment fairs right now.

I love grads almost as much as I envy them. Imagine, having all that freedom to think, create and... err... drink and party. Now they have to talk to prospective employers to find out what kind of work they could do, what would interest them, what's the most rewarding way to use their skills.... which employers have a beer fridge (tick).

Even in the current climate, it's still competitive. Sure, there are plenty of grads out there, but employers are after ones with specific skills that match the needs of their organisation - and matching values come high up.'

Take a look at this grad recruiter, different from most, and trying to make the point that a job with their organisation isn't exactly what you might think.

What's that ASIO doesn't just recruit spies?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The downturn bites

Over here at recruitment advertising and strategy towers, we feel the downturn as much as anyone. If our clients aren't placing advertisements, we don't get media commission or the production charge, and the transactional side of our business takes a nose dive. Over the past few months, we've all felt it.

So it's no surprise to us that latest news from the ANZ job ad series shows newspaper job ads fell 25.2% last month. In context, this means they're now down 55.4% year-on-year - the steepest fall in print vacancies since the bank began measuring them in the mid-1970s. Online ads fell 9.4% in February, and are down 38.6% year-on-year.

We're in recruitment freefall.

But it wasn't always like this. Employers have experienced a very tight market for the past few years, which has forced them to be more competitive in attracting the best talent. They've needed to think more creatively, realising that a standard ad in the recruitment pages will no longer reap the results it once did. A recruiter could no longer afford to disregard failed applicants because in doing so they would be getting rid of valuable talent that could fill a different, but nonetheless critical, role.

In doing so, employers have stumbled upon the idea that - like it or not - they have an employer brand. And they have the power to do something about it.

Their employer brand isn't contained in their logo, design guidelines or the values statement posted on their website. But it is there, an intagible concept, containing the myriad of ideas that employees and candidates have about the organisation. Employers can influence these ideas - if they don't others will do it for them.

Some of our clients realise the importance of this work. And they're working with us to achieve great results of increased engagement, alignment, and productivity. We're helping to shape beliefs - it's important work, and will ultimately reap the rewards.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Where have all the thinkers gone?

You know, being a settled Pom over here in this fantastic country, some things really make me seethe.

I can put up with the laid-back attitude. I'm at home with blue skies. I can just about cope with the endlessly enticing beaches. But I simply can't fathom the way this downturn is being managed by employers.

The way I see it, a downturn like this is part of healthy economic cycle. Businesses should look to come out the other end (note to employers: There will be an end to the downturn.) leaner, meaner and more innovative. Markets have shifted, so they need to adapt, take stock and come up with new ideas. So where are these ideas coming from? Their employees?

Working for an advertising agency, we trade in the business of ideas. But are employers listening to us, mulling it over, and thinking of ways to make it work? No. They're restructuring and cutting costs. I repeat: Restructure. Cut costs. Duh. Duh. Same. Same. Who told them that this was the only way to justify HR's existence in a downturn?

In the olden days of advertising, an advert served as a rather pleasant notice: This is my product. It's rather nice. I think you should buy it.

As competition increased, new ways were developed to increase sales: This is my product. It's rather nice. It's has certain features that are better than other brands. You should stick to buying my product.

Times marched onwards, and advertising starting selling ideas: Buy my product and become the person you want to be.

In Australia, many employers are still placing recruitment advertisements like rather pleasant notices. They pay lip service to terms like 'employer branding', but don't invest in the areas that they will, eventually, need to. Let me make it clear: People will still want to work for a certain organisation because of their beliefs about them - and how closely this matches their desires of who they want to be. And employers still need to work hard at reinforcing the messages that accurately reflect them. Want to be seen as innovative, forward-thinking, young, vibrant, quirky? Go work for Virgin.

I'm not saying to employers: "Hey! You! Keep advertising or the future targets won't know why they'd want to work for you!" (although this may be the case).

What I am saying is that the businesses that come out of this downturn in the best shape, will be those that continue to attract more of the right people for the right reasons. The reputation employers have built will continue to decline the less their message is repeated and the less control they have over the ideas and beliefs people have about them.

So here's my rallying cry to employers: First, look to the people at your organisation. The people who have chosen to work for you. The people who believe that your organisation says something about who they are. These people are your spokespeople, your advocates, your evangelists.

Engage them, inspire them, encourage new ideas. Get them to talk to others, and share their experiences about why they work for you. In times of downturn, look to ways to build a fortress from within.

And talk to recruitment strategy experts to help you do it. Don't just react to every cost-cutting measure.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Internal communication

It seems that in these financially tumultuous times, employers are increasingly looking within in order to cut costs, streamline, and maximise revenue. Many have put in place recruitment freezes, cut non-essential hires, or cut down employee working hours.

Much talk is on managing existing talent to achieve maximum productivity.

But the feedback that I get is that these changes are not being communicated effectively. Nor are the feedback loops in place in order to ensure communication is two-way, and employees have a forum where they're comfortable to ask questions.

Any measures that are put in place are doomed to fail if they are not communicated effectively. Employees won't be engaged by structural changes unless they feel they are being told the full story. Unless they feel that changes benefit them individually and collectively - not the needs of some high-falutin', stoney-faced Board of Directors.

Every successful business needs to ensure employees feel valued; that - when times are tough - they are doing everything in their power to reduce operating costs with the least effect possible on staff numbers or morale. There needs to be postivity running like an iron rod through every necessary piece of bad news.

And when this news is communicated, it needs to be tied to the core beliefs and perceptions that caused employees to join the organisation to start with. It needs to explain why the employer brand of the organisation is still strong and visible, and that the reasons to stay engaged, motivated and productive are the same as they ever were.

An analogy: When Gerald Ratner spoke negatively about his business, it's value depreciated by 500million sterling. Lose the engagement and loyalty of your people, and the loss will be felt years after economic recovery.

Employers: Make your decisions visible and don't be afraid to use external agencies to communicate them well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Healthy living and the economy

Inspired by a recent visit to the fantastically written, yet hardline Three Piece Suite blog, I started to think a little more deeply about the impact of obesity on the economy, and where the boundaries of government responsibility lay.

If obesity is genuinely a drain on the economy, governments need to make it less financially viable to be fat. More to the point, they also need to introduce measures that make healthy food and exercise profitable to the producer, and cost-effective and enjoyable for the consumer.

(For a more detailed and high-end argument along these lines, albeit using free markets to address the grander vision of our impact on the environment, check out the Ethical Man blog.)

Right now, cigarettes are highly taxed, and alcohol looks to be following suit. So perhaps it is only a matter of time before unhealthy eating is in line with other vices. This is actually good news for those with a healthy appetite - we can incentivise healthy food and gyms in a way we can't do with cigarettes or drink.

I make an assumption in all this that we are now beyond the tipping point, where the cost to the economy of our consumption is greater than the revenue it generates (perhaps an economist could help solve this puzzle). But in any case, the hit, if any, must be driven by legislation, and taken on by industry. Consumers can't be expected to make the right choices if there's an easier and cheaper alternative. I don't particularly want a car, but until bicycles, buses, trains, electric cars, or hover boards become a sensible option, I'll keep driving. Plus, everyone else will still have their cars, so what difference does it make if I ditch the Daihatsu Charade? I lose, but no one gains.

There are plenty of people who don't need market forces to lead a healthy life, myself included. And there are plenty of people who make the right environmental choices, for the greater good. So perhaps the answer is in education first, incentives second.

You can see the original article here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Using PR to attract

Today, I've been having a number of conversations about the use of PR in promoting an employer, or a particular role. It's an approach with huge potential, yet one I've never seen offered by agencies other than on a 'by-the-job' approach.

However. Isn't it one of the most important aspects of promoting your employer brand? Ensuring that, in the long-term, newsworthy outlets accurately communicate aspects of the organisational culture, and not rely on hearsay or assumption, or someone they've grabbed off the street who will say something controversial?

And won't using PR effectively ultimately mean that employers get more of the right people - people who are more engaged and more productive because they've joined for the right reasons?

I say this on the back of then noticing this on the BBC news website. It's a rather sombre assessment of the state of Social Worker recruitment in the UK. Those of us who have worked in this area know that attraction and retention doesn't get much more challenging.

So why has this story broken without there being one iota of positive news about it? If I was interested in in social issues - which I must be since I was reading the story - what are the positive things that get me thinking "Jeez, that sounds like tough work - but on the other hand...".

Put simply, this article paints a grey and dismal picture - there's no speak of reward, support, kudos, or even any stories of the amazing people who have made such a big difference to peoples' lives.

You need to be newsworthy to succeed in PR. But you need to use it to your advantage too.

Ocean swimming

I swam the Sydney Harbour race yesterday, and avoided all sharks.

What a great, exhillarating sport ocean swimming is.

600 people paying good money to take a calculated risk... Hmm, I wonder if employers could create that sort of buzz?

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Hello dear visitor,

This posting is my first foray into the online blogosphere. In the coming months and years, I intend this blog to be a celebration of creativity.

Not necessarily my creativity, per se. B
ut the stuff I see and hear all around me.

You see, I work at an advertising agency that specialises in the rather dry-sounding realm of employer marketing. For many readers, this concept will be as alien to you as the contents of my wardrobe. But, believe me, I work with a hell of a lot of creative minds - and I see ideas that fly like an eagle.

I also see ideas that fly like a dodo, and I look forward to giving my opinion on those too.

In essence, employment marketing is all about employers attracting, engaging and retaining more of the right people. This can help them grow; it certainly makes them more profitable and effective.

Some of the employers I work with have long-term branding strategies. Some focus on consistently fresh initiatives to keep talent motivated. Some just want to plan their next trip to Bolivia, so can't we just get on with it without always asking for their feedback.

In this blog, I'll discuss all of this. And a whole lot more.