Archive for March, 2016

Rewrite the code

Friday, March 18th, 2016

scottFacebook celebrated International Women’s Day in London with the launch of Theirworld’s  “Rewriting the code” campaign.  Sarah Brown said that this meant changing the deep rooted values embedded in society across the globe that are stifling the potential of women.

Aside from the benefits of fairness, there is a powerful argument for business to support this.  McKinsey have estimated that there’s $12trillion that could be added to GDP worldwide by 2025 by improving parity between men and women.  (A trillion is a million millions by the way).

The speakers presented a spectrum of challenges that are currently blocking these opportunities from the 3rd world to the 1st.  Firmly in the latter world, model and app developer, Lyndsey Scott, told her story.

You don’t meet many actresses who are also models who are also brilliant at coding.  Lyndsey is the first one for me.  She became an overnight sensation when she was picked up by Calvin Klein in 2009 to be their first African American model (after a day spent handing out flyers in the street in NYC).  She talked about the fact that later on, when her successful modelling career hit a wall (she was fired with no notice by her agency), she turned to her other passion, coding, because it was a career where she could exercise some control.

She’s very good at coding.  But she feels that she had to be very good at it because she’s a woman.  She was constantly challenged online by men who kept saying that she wasn’t serious about it, because she’s “just a model”.  Across Facebook, Google, Apple the ratio of men to women in tech employees is 4:1.  It is she points out “a less than welcoming environment for women”.  And she looks forward to the day when a woman in tech can actually be average at her job and still be taken seriously (as millions of average men in tech are every day worldwide).

Things had better change. There’s about to be a stepchange in women in tech in the workforce according to a MediaCom survey.  In the UK we’ve spotted a significant shift in career aspirations from girls in our long running research insight panel Connected Kids.  Our latest trends watch survey has Science careers as the second highest career aspiration amongst girls.  Top five aspirations are Teaching, Science, Doctor, Vet and Law.  And 80% of the girls surveyed want to go to university, up from 72% last year (compared to 65% of boys this year, a drop from 69% the year before so the gap is widening).

Half a decade ago the picture was really different by the way.  Girls still aspired to be teachers and doctors but science careers didn’t feature.  Instead the top five included singer, pop star and actress.  It looks like current generation of girls at school have reached the same conclusion as Scott – that a career based on something that you can control is a better longterm prospect.

The team behind Connected Kids at MediaCom, Pauline Robson and Hanna Lubin, are calling boys and girls of this generation “Gen Responsible”.  They’ve had relatively high exposure to news and the economy because of social media and they’re worried about their prospects, they’re savvy about financial issues and they believe in preparing for the future.  In Deloitte’s latest TMT Predictions they warn our industry that as far as women succeeding in IT jobs: “It’s about education, but it is also about more than education”.  The industry needs to be better at recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting.  That’s where my next book: The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work will be helpful.

It looks like the girls are coming and they’re ready to re-write the code, literally.  Our industry needs to be ready to reward their talent.

Are you collaborated out?

Friday, March 11th, 2016

puppyIf you aren’t collaborating on a project these days then I don’t know what you are doing with your day.  It is everywhere in media and advertising circles these days.

If we’re not partnering we’re collaborating.  If we’re not collaborating we’re playing as a team.  And if we’re not doing that at least then we’re probably barely on speaking terms.  Does no-one do anything on their own anymore?  (By the way, this was written with no collaboration at all so if you don’t like it you can blame me and me alone).

Team work is obviously a good thing, and an essential ingredient of the complex communications eco-system in which we all operate.  Matrix management is essential for most businesses these days, and working together to promote a single goal is crucial.

However, it sometimes seems that no organisation can take any steps without ensuring that loads of people have collaborated on a project.  We have a new almost religious belief in the wisdom of the crowd and any sense of healthy competition makes some people faint in their designer sports shoes.

Everyone has to at least give an impression of being collaborative.

Two things about this.

First not everyone thinks that large collaborations are the best way to achieve excellence.  Brilliantly creative people don’t always regard it as a big criteria for success.  Dave Trott, writing on the dangers of the wisdom of the crowd, points out that “a crowd is just other people.  And people can be wrong.  Just because there’s a lot of them doesn’t make them any less wrong.”  Picasso wasn’t known for working in a team.

Secondly, even if you accept that collaborating can get you much further with a project than mulling over it on your own, (after all Rhianna has worked worked worked recently to great effect with Drake), collaboration is not always a fair distribution of labour.  A study in HBR by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant (they must have collaborated on it)  shows that the distribution of collaborative work is often extremely lopsided.  In most cases they say up to 35% of value-added collaboration comes from just 3-5% of people.  And those people, who are great at adding value, and generous with their time and energy, get drawn into more and more projects in a spiral of “escalating citizenship”.  This is great for a time but can backfire.  Helpful as they are they become bottle-necks.  People start delaying meetings because a particular all round collaboration-star isn’t available, or work won’t progress because they haven’t endorsed it.  Also they themselves become burnt out.  However flattering it is to be asked to contribute to 5 projects a week, as well as having to get on with their day job, no-one’s that good.  Often this goes unnoticed because those people are being called upon by different teams and being pulled in very different directions. And because they love being helpful they don’t ever say no.

The researchers give one example of a woman named Sharon who had a superb network of over 80 people who wanted her to be involved in projects.  But 40% of those people wanted more of her time, and Sharon was increasingly unable to cope, or to know how to say no, to protect her own work and work life balance.

Leaders need to be aware of how collaboration is operating across their business.  To make sure that it is not the default plan for every project, and to make sure that some of their brightest stars don’t get “collaborated out” so that they can’t add value where and when it is really needed.



What is the worst thing you’ve ever done in the office?

Friday, March 4th, 2016

cativHow would you feel if a prospective boss asked you that?  How honest could you be? And would you expect to be offered the job as a result?

And what is the point to such a question?

Interviews are useless. You’d never judge whether an athlete should compete in the Olympics from an interview or two.  Football players don’t get picked or not for the team due to answers to questions about what they believe their strengths and weaknesses are.  You don’t cast a movie on the basis of the answer to a question about where the actor sees themselves in 5 years.

Yet hundreds of job interviews go on every week in our industry and decisions are made about the best fit for a team on the basis of a few hours chat and a desultory glance at a polished cv.

TV show “Who’s the boss?” suggests letting the whole team choose a candidate, via “collaborative hiring”.  Nice idea (though maybe not for the candidates), not always practical.

Interview processes vary from place to place of course.    And some questions, like the one above, can seem weird, irrelevant or even rude for example “Why are manhole covers round?”, “What do you think of lava lamps?” And “When asked about your personality, what would your best friend say you needed to work on?”

Interviewers can only know so much about someone’s actual ability from their reputation (which can we know could have been spun and polished, or the reverse) and what candidates say they have contributed in their current role.  Sometimes people who join a business turn out to be a total surprise, and only sometimes in a good way.

Studies that show that interviews are worthless writes Richard Nisbett in Wired.   The correlation between an interview and longterm success is in the region of .01 percent so you might as well print the cvs out, make paper airplanes and pick the candidate which floats the furthest.  Nisbett argues that a job interview is not representative of anything and employers just shouldn’t waste time on it.  In fact, it’s worse than that.  The job interview is all about the interviewer, NOT the candidate. If as an employer you leave the interview with a great impression of the candidate it may only mean that the candidate has used the highly powerful tactic of asking you more questions than he or she is answering.  Which means that you’ve learnt that they are good at managing upwards but possibly not much more than that.  Maybe that’s what you need in the team.   Or it might be that you need different skills and whilst the candidate may have those too, you’re taking a chance if all they’ve done is ask you what you think.

We don’t make this mistake in sport or acting because there’s either a track record – with proper stats, or an audition of the necessary acting ability.  Can an interviewer audition a candidate in media planning, statistical analysis, buying nous etc in the same way?

An interview represents a tiny sample of behaviour that you want and need in the office.   It tends to favour extroverts of course, (and a business built entirely on that behaviour won’t hack it.). We don’t get to systematically observe the candidate in an interview, we won’t have a great enough sample for proper comparison statistically and there’s a good deal of bias in how we react instinctively to people we don’t know well.

So should we scrap interviews entirely?  Or at least try and make them unpredictable with quirky or unconventional questions?

So, go ask away, what is the worst thing they’ve ever done in the office?





Don’t fix the problem, eliminate the cause of the problem.

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

puppy-stuck-in-the-fence-bigSince the launch of the Government Digital Service in 2012, the digital transformation engine for the UK government, there has been a significant step change in online services.  Try applying for a driving licence online, if you haven’t done it recently, you’ll be shocked at how easy it is now.  In total there’s been over 2 billion visits to the sites GDS has helped to build since its inception.

Recently the GDS held its annual round up of progress and achievement: Sprint 16.  I’ve been part of GDS’ Digital Advisory Board and therefore had the opportunity to learn about the current set of projects.  More than anything else this event reflected the need for different teams, different internal cultures and different skill sets to work together.  The new executive director, Stephen Foreshew-Cain, prioritises the necessity for everyone, across government, to work together, to fulfil users’ needs (and not the need of government).

There are analogies with the world of marketing.  For a start we are all working to abolish siloes between teams and ensure that we get specialist functions to work together without diminishing their expertise. In marketing there’s an overriding need to focus on the customer needs, often a struggle to deliver the seamless experience that the customer wants and expects in businesses that were set up with very different business models from today.

Most customers expect for example to be able to buy what they want, at the best price, when they want it and in every way they want to.  This can be a challenge for a bricks and mortar business where online shopping ends up costing the business money.

Customers also expect that cheap prices do not diminish their capacity to get brilliant customer service when they want that too.

There are two ways of solving this problem.  You can staff up, and train, call centres to be better.

Or you can try and eliminate the need for anyone to call you at all.

Speaking recently on this topic Neil Clitheroe, CEO retail and generation at Scottish Power, said “If customers feel the need to call us, there’s a customer service failure…. We constantly ask ourselves, why could the customer not complete what they were doing online?”

It is an interesting way of looking at the situation. It places the emphasis on eliminating the need for customer service rather than ensuring that developing customer service is a priority.

At Sprint 16 GDS representatives spoke about using the same approach to transforming some government services online. There’s an ongoing problem with people calling 999 unnecessarily, sometimes with the best intentions.  Do you have more call handlers?  Do you have another advertising campaign to try and explain when to call 999 and when not to?  GDS are instead working to fix call log jams for the police services by introducing online reporting of minor crimes (rather than by increasing the capacity of call centres, or re-educating the public).  They’re developing the capacity to plea guilty for minor crimes online too, so that you can pay your fine without taking up time in court, leaving the courts to deal with real issues of justice.

Don’t fix the problem, fix the cause. It sometimes feels contra-intuitive, and it might seem harder, but it’s the only way really to move forward.