Twitter for the Uninitiated

There are over a billion Tweets sent every three days. Twitter currently has 140 million active users and the top region for Twitter usage is Venezuela with, believe it or not, 100% of the population using this social network. In the US, the number is approximately 30% and growing. As of May 2010, Thursday and Friday were the most active days on Twitter and 10:00-11:00 pm was the most active time. But like all things social media the rate of change is intense.

Being amongst the 30+% of Twitter users in this country I am hooked and constantly surprised at how many around me still do not use the site. Since the way it can be used is virtually endless and the tweets represent conversations related to almost any topic imaginable Twitter probably holds some value for most of us.

Following the follies of celebrities is what perhaps some of us associate with Twitter and that can certainly hold no interest. On the other hands, here are my top five suggestions for making Twitter indispensable for you:

1-Sign up! Use a standard professional photograph and put a few words in the bio section. Then use “what’s trending” or “browse categories” to search for topics that are of interest to you. Carefully select (Twitter can quickly become noise if you follow too many irrelevant folks) those you want to follow and observe.

2- In today’s world, news is old by the time it gets to the papers. News web sites are certainly abundant and have been for years and provide a more up-to-minute sense of what is going on. But Twitter allows you to take this one step further. By following your favorite news sites and even having this news delivered to your mobile device, you begin to get real time exposure to breaking stories. This can hold major competitive advantage for some of us or at least make for interesting conversation for others. Some of the most influential on Twitter are: @nytimes, @cnn, @financialtimes, @bbcbreaking

3-The peculiarly named, yet oh so useful hashtag is one of my favorite Twitter tools (how many of you knew that the symbol # is called a hash symbol?) Using a hashtag before a word or phrase allows Twitter to organize all tweets with the same hashtag together. For example, during the Olympics, inputting: #olympics or #olympics2012 or #london2012 provided varied comments and information on the Olympics all neatly assembled for one’s perusal.

4-Today most articles on the web have an icon attached that allows it to be tweeted or shared in a variety of other social media outlets. Why not use Twitter to assemble the articles that you read and may want to reference at some point? By Tweeting the article it becomes part of your Twitter page and it can be referred back to at any time. It is like having your own virtual library.

5-Finally, for those of us interested in the world of corporate governance there is an abundance of feeds that can provide up-to-the-minute information from a variety of perspectives. Some of my favorites are: The Conference Board Governance Center (@tcbcorpgov), Corporate Secretary (@corpsecmag) and Nell Minow (@nimow). There are, of course, so many others but hopefully your curiosity is spurned and you can make your own discoveries!


September 4, 2012 at 1:28 am 1 comment

The P&G Board: Too Much of a Good Thing?

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Several conditions make a company attractive to an activist investor. Per the Milken Institute, these include an undervalued business, poor share price performance, failure to meet communicated goals and the company being a conglomerate or mini-conglomerate.

Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management recently announced a $2 billion investment for a 1% stake in Proctor & Gamble (P&G).  P&G, with 2011 sales of $82.5 billion represents a significant target for Pershing Square and is in fact the firm’s largest investment ever. It will be interesting to watch these powerful forces collide.

At the center of much of the criticism of P&G is CEO Robert MacDonald who took the helm of the company in 2009 after a well-planned and executed succession planning process. In fact, P&G is an oft-cited case for succession planning best practices. They have a succession planning program that has been consistently studied and replicated. As a big believer…

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July 20, 2012 at 8:17 pm

The P&G Board: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Several conditions make a company attractive to an activist investor. Per the Milken Institute, these include an undervalued business, poor share price performance, failure to meet communicated goals and the company being a conglomerate or mini-conglomerate.

Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management recently announced a $2 billion investment for a 1% stake in Proctor & Gamble (P&G).  P&G, with 2011 sales of $82.5 billion represents a significant target for Pershing Square and is in fact the firm’s largest investment ever. It will be interesting to watch these powerful forces collide.

At the center of much of the criticism of P&G is CEO Robert MacDonald who took the helm of the company in 2009 after a well-planned and executed succession planning process. In fact, P&G is an oft-cited case for succession planning best practices. They have a succession planning program that has been consistently studied and replicated. As a big believer in the advantages of planned and strategic succession, even I have used P&G as an example in my teaching on the subject. Yet, Robert MacDonald, the hand-picked and groomed successor to A.G.Lafley (P&G’s former Chairman, President & CEO) is being blamed for the lackluster results P&G has been experiencing lately. As such, it is being speculated that he will be the initial target of the changes Bill Ackman is looking to make.

Subsequent to this, the focus most certainly will turn to the board of directors. According to research at NYU’s Stern School of Business out of 151 activist hedge fund targets studied between 2003 and 2005, activist shareholders received a seat on the board about 44% of the time (this number is surely on the rise). So, what will Ackman find as he and his team begins to scrutinize the P&G boardroom?

In addition to CEO Robert MacDonald, P&G has a stellar group of seriously accomplished executives in their boardroom. The CEO’s of some of this country’s largest and best known companies are directors of P&G. This includes Ken Chenault of American Express, Jim McNerney of Boeing, Meg Whitman of HP and Pat Woertz of Archer Daniels Midland. With such a stellar cast of characters, is there anything that Ackman can find to improve?

The answer is, as it always is, yes!  Eight out of the ten independent directors on the P&G board are active CEO’s and six of the eight are also the Chair of their company’s board. Additionally, six of the ten independent directors have a board seat  in addition to their own and P&G. This means that these active CEOs are sitting on two or more outside boards for a total of three (and in one case four) board commitments. That is a lot of responsibility.  The convention these days for sitting CEOs is to participate in one or oftentimes, no outside boards.

Speaking of multiple commitments, serving on a board these days can take upwards of 20 hours a month (PWC reported this in 2009). Add to this the consuming responsibility of running a multi-national, multi-billion publicly traded company in these days of tough economic times and increasing demands from all sides and that doesn’t leave a lot of time even for the most efficient and effective.

In 2011, 59% of P&G’s sales came from outside North America. Asia currently represents 16%  and is contributing double-digit growth to the company. Overall P&G is experiencing disproportionate growth from developing regions yet the only non-American on the board is Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico.  The company and/or Ackman would be prudent to eventually add an executive from any of a variety of emerging markets. Someone with “on-the-ground” operating experience from one or more of the 180 countries P&G does business in could be invaluable.

Ackman may eventually make a big deal out of some interlocks that exist on the P&G board as this type of circumstance is ripe for the focus of an investor looking for lapses of any kind (remember the resume fiasco at Yahoo that now seems like ancient history!) Both Ken Chenault and James McNerney sit on the IBM board in addition to P&G.  Bob MacDonald and Mary Alice Wilderotter, another P&G director, also sit on the board of Xerox.  Finally, P&G director Scott Cook who is the President of Intuit also sits on the Ebay board. He has sat on Ebay since 1998, the year Meg Whitman became CEO of the company. So he and Whitman spent nine years in the boardroom at Ebay and now they serve together on the P&G board.  All of these connections make for a collegial group that has a lot in common but the familiarity can breed an environment that is too amicable and perhaps too tight-knit.

Finally, while it is extremely desirable to have CEO expertise on a board of directors some diversity of skills is important as well.  Perhaps Ackman is going to push for some  online marketing, social media, technology or supply chain talent.  In any case, even on  a board jammed with high-profile and accomplished leaders there is always room for some improvement!

July 20, 2012 at 1:03 am 1 comment

LinkedIn 101

As of March 2012 there were 161 million members on LinkedIn. The site counts executives from all Fortune 500 companies as members and it is the 36th most visited web site in the world. So, in case you have been avoiding it, perhaps it is time to join the fray!

As an Executive Recruiter, LinkedIn has perhaps been the single greatest disrupter in our industry since it began. Gone are the days of being invisible. Job seekers and even those who are not – are registering at a rate of two per second on LinkedIn, exposing themselves and their backgrounds publicly in a way that was inconceivable even a few years ago.

Amazingly, LinkedIn was officially launched on May 5, 2003, only 9 years ago. Thus we are still in the early stages of this phenomenon and the way in which it is used will undoubtedly evolve. Nevertheless there are some guidelines that should be considered, particularly if you are using this tool to attract the attention of a Recruiter.

Consider your LinkedIn profile your parking spot on the great World Wide Web. You may not be visible anywhere else but LinkedIn provides all those who so desire a place to display themselves, their talents and accomplishments.

Being observable on LinkedIn means presenting yourself in public and accordingly your profile needs to be clean, logical and well written. As with your resume, Recruiters and other interested parties will scan your profile for a few seconds. If nothing catches their eye they will move on. As a Recruiter, I want to see that people have had genuine jobs and made real progress in their career. The best LinkedIn profiles clearly communicate this.

It is not necessary to advertise being unemployed. Rather, and as with a paper resume, inserting start and end dates for jobs is sufficient. Remember that recruiters and other hiring professionals conduct key word searches to look for appropriate candidates so use every field in your profile to maximize impact!

Subscribe to the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” and insert a professional one in your profile. No party photos or cartoon images please.

LinkedIn allows each member to join up to fifty LinkedIn Groups which are groups formed on any of a wide variety of interests. Be mindful of the message joining a particular group may send. While most are innocuous, there are singles and dating groups as well as those for tattoo enthusiasts. These affiliations are probably best left to Facebook or elsewhere and do not belong on a LinkedIn profile.

The recommendations feature on LinkedIn profiles can be helpful in providing some third-party insight into a person. However I have seen many a profile with too many recommendations and this has the effect of diminishing their credibility. I would say 8-10 authentic, well written recommendations are more than enough. Recruiters and hiring managers know how to extract this type of information and probably give more credence to the recommendations we obtain on our own.

Finally, check your facts. Make sure what you say is accurate. Make sure your LinkedIn profile matches your resume.

When you Google someone, their LinkedIn profile (if they have one) is usually the first result so the time spent on this activity is certainly well worth it.

June 27, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Compliance is an HR Concern too!

What a few weeks it has been for Yahoo! As the company was settling into its fifth CEO in five years, activist investor Daniel Loeb uncovered the fact that Scott Thompson had, let’s call it “misinformation,” on his resume.

By now this topic has been covered by the media around the globe, has trended on Twitter and been blogged about relentlessly.  Board member Patti Hart stepped down as a result of her lead role in the recruiting of Thompson and more recently Loeb’s hedge fund Third Point received three seats in the Yahoo board room.

But in all of the mudslinging it seems that there has not been much discussion about the underlying processes (or lack thereof) that allowed Thompson’s error to exist for so long. What I refer to here is a topic that has also been extremely newsworthy of late and that is compliance.

Compliance can mean a number of things and is usually discussed in relation to financial issues and internal audits within a company. However compliance is of great significance to the HR function as well.

In 2006 The Bureau of National Affairs published a paper, “Sarbanes-Oxley Act: HR’s Role in Ensuring Compliance and Driving Cultural Change. It contained an extensive discussion of HR’s important compliance role in a post Sarbanes-Oxley business environment.  The paper states: “HR processes can tighten the bottom line, mitigate risks of legal exposure, reduce costly turnover, and improve corporate morale—or expose the business to financial and reputation losses if proper controls are not in place.” So where was all of this in the hiring of Scott Thompson at Yahoo or even at his former employer, EBay?

Many companies have a hiring process compliance checklist that enumerates all of the checks and balances that must be completed when making a new hire. This checklist can include specific interviews that should have taken place, a methodology for reference checking and hopefully a mechanism for degree verification. While some aspects of the hiring process can be laborious, degree verification is a simple and typically streamlined activity. A quick look at several college and university web sites reveals explicit instructions about degree verification and the common promise that it can be completed in 1 business day.

Systematic compliance practices for HR functions creates a structured and organized hiring process in which errors have a way of being recognized before the investment in a new hire is made. Hopefully, this will be amongst the lessons learned from the Thompson debacle!

May 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Onboarding for Novices!

ImageThe fast-paced corporate environment and global marketplace of the 21st century has shortened the honeymoon period for newly hired C-level executives. After conducting an exhaustive executive search, multiple interviews and extensive 360 degree referencing, the recruiting process is usually considered over. But even in the best of circumstances, this is in fact only the beginning of ensuring that the organization receives the maximum benefit from a new hire.

To facilitate success for both the outside hire, as well as the company, some organizations implement ongoing orientation and mentoring programs referred to as onboarding. These programs or activities could last for several months to several years. According to the American Psychological Association, onboarding, also known as organizational socialization or assimilation “refers to the process that helps new employees learn the knowledge, skills, and behaviors they need to succeed in their new organizations.”

The first ninety-days or so of an executive’s tenure is viewed as a make or break period. Strategic onboarding programs can help align a new hire with the organization. As a team member rather than outsider this new executive has a much greater chance of success. The retention rates of these well-integrated individuals are also higher than those left to their own devices. Furthermore, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) U.S. and U.K. employees cost businesses an estimated $37 billion every year because they do not fully understand their jobs.

Sink-or-Swim is Not the Preferred Approach

In the old “Mad Men” days, executives typically spent their first day on the job filling out paperwork, before being escorted through the office by a human resources manager for a series of brief introductions. After that, senior executives were largely left on their own to navigate the often-hazardous terrain of unwritten rules, shadow alliances, office politics and an undefined corporate culture. The old sink-or-swim strategy is no longer recommended. Today, a targeted onboarding support network is preferred by many organizations to provide speedy assimilation into the organization’s culture, to help an executive develop successful networks and personal relations, and to develop a personal development plan that paves the way for success and credibility.

Michael Watkins author of the seminal manual on onboarding, “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels,” cautions organizations against what he calls, “Darwinian Leadership Development,” in which outside recruits are “thrown into the deep end” and left to their own devices. After expending considerable time and resources to recruit the right candidate, organizations should not leave the ultimate success or failure of a new executive to chance. Increasing shareholder value is ultimately dependant on the productivity and development of valuable “soft skills,” by individual executives and an effective onboarding program is essential to fostering productivity and profitability.

Study, Listen, Learn

Whatever the scope and complexity of an organization’s onboarding plan, newly hired executives would be well advised to get a running start during the pre-boarding window after accepting an offer and before reporting to work. New executives should learn everything they can about their organization’s culture, vision and goals. During the early days and months, new hires should spend the bulk of their time listening to their team and supervisor, as well as diligently studying and learning the ins-and-outs of the corporate culture. Numerous studies show that organizations with a comprehensive onboarding plan in place enjoy a lower turnover rate within their executive ranks. Taking charge of your own success and developing personal goals within the framework of the onboarding plan can go a long way in ensuring a successful outcome.

Early Onboarding Wins

In his onboarding tome, Watkins recommends that organizations help newly hired executives achieve an early win to instill confidence and develop professional credibility during the critical early months. Organizations can assist executives by providing an accelerated learning program and offering support during the crucial team building process. Establishing an individual performance plan with specific milestones, with plenty of coaching and mentoring throughout the process, can spur the all-important early achievements and wins that are crucial to job satisfaction.

Organizations that continue the extensive recruiting process throughout an executive’s early tenure with a strategic onboarding program will greatly benefit from an executive leader’s early success, confidence and buy-in of an organization’s culture. Onboarding should be viewed as the final step in the lengthy recruitment process and the beginning of a comprehensive retention program.

April 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm

The Over-50 Job Search

Looking for a new job is never easy. This is particularly true given the business climate of the past few years. Add to this a more mature worker and the process can be fraught with many challenges.

But as retirement age gradually increases so does the number of people looking for a new job later in their career. This pattern is also influenced by the decline of “lifetime employment” that characterized many a career in the past.

So what does the more mature job seeker need to be mindful of that the newer worker does not?

The Resume

In the realm of resumes the issues usually surround omissions rather than errors. One common omission is leaving out the date of one’s graduation from college. This only delays the inevitable. It does not actually avoid anything because before hiring someone most companies and certainly most reputable recruiters do a degree certification. In order to do this we need the year of graduation.

Another prevalent resume omission is early work history. The reason for this may be both to avoid the “age issue” as well as to comply with the erroneous belief that resumes must be only one page. In fact, early experience can be very relevant and provides important insight into a person’s career path. Extensive details do not necessarily need to be provided (they can be filled in during an interview) but dates, titles and companies should at least be provided in order to present a complete picture on one’s career. And, as for the 1-page fallacy, it is just that, a fallacy. Better to provide two (or sometimes three) pages of meaningful, well written information than a jam-packed, small font single page. 

The Interview

In terms of the interview, accurate and complete resumes make for interviews that are more targeted and appropriate to the job. No one wants to waste their time preparing and interviewing for a job they are not qualified for.So one more reason to be detailed and accurate on the resume.

The interview is an opportunity to communicate both your interest in and qualifications for the job at hand. Older candidates should prepare in the same way as anyone, but they have the added advantage of bringing more knowledge and experience to the table. This should be viewed and presented as an advantage and not an apology.

The older job candidate should also be mindful of and emphasize other competitive advantages: less or no child-rearing obligations, increased geographical mobility that comes with children in college or even working in their own career and advanced stability that hopefully has been cultivated over time.

Being in the job market as an older person should also be used as an opportunity to improve and update your skills. This should include familiarizing yourself with various forms of social media which incidentally can have the dual advantage of leading the way to new job opportunities and connections. Being current on the practices and tools of whatever your industry and position is a minimum. The interview should be an opportunity to showcase this facility and knowledge.

Finally, there is a commonly held perception that seniority costs more. Be prepared to discuss this and either provide justification as to why or an admission as to your flexibility.

Bottom Line

Job searching at any age is tough. At a later age it can be even more burdensome but with proper preparation and explanation what some might perceive as a disadvantage can be presented as merit and virtue. As always, it is how the message is presented that can make the ultimate difference.

March 30, 2012 at 1:11 am 3 comments

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