Friday
May192017

Why the kitchen sink has no place in your job postings

by Nina Post

When you start hiring for your small company, it's tempting to assume the new staff members will constantly have to wear different hats. After all, this is what the founders do early on.

I think this mindset is why you see a lot of job postings that include the following:

Writing email and web copy
Writing blog posts
Writing white papers
HTML and CSS
Setting up conversion tracking and sales funnels
Planning live events
Social media
Managing customer relationships
Creating webinars
Project management
Creating videos
Managing PPC advertising
SEO

The problem with a posting like this

A job posting like this tells me that (a) this company is disorganized and unfocused, and doesn't even know what its goals are, and (b) doesn't have a content strategy and doesn't know it needs one.

The responsibilities this job posting is asking for cover a large number of full-time jobs. It's not effective to do it this way, and it's not strategic.

The problem is that it's especially hard to scale the jack-of-all-trades skill set as your company grows, and there's only so much time. Whoever wrote this job posting is asking for someone who's barely passable in a lot of areas, and who won't be able to excel in any of them.

On the job seeker side, some people try to cover every possible area of marketing in their CV. They're aggressively generalist, covering B2B and B2C, every stage in the inbound methodology and the buyer's journey, and a lot more on top of that. I don't even know where they get this mentality, because big companies -- where most people have worked -- always err toward the more specific, limited job description.

I saw a CV like this that included brand building as one of their 50 skills, which is particularly funny, considering the person's positioning is antithetical to good branding. A good brand is narrow and focused. A good brand specializes. Someone who presents themself as a generalist in a way that's similar to this job posting is casting their net as wide as possible, and they won't be a good hire.

Can they stop time?

A posting like this never mentions how much of each responsibility the person needs to handle. Whoever takes this job can't enter into a bubble where time stops, and can't go through a wormhole where they get this stuff done in the past.


It's more like the founders heard they should be doing these things, and without even thinking about it, they decided to put every task pertaining to it into a single posting. "Oh yeah, white papers, add that. Webinars too. And we need someone to manage all of our projects and workflows. But they've gotta know CSS and handle our PR. And they should be an awesome writer, too. And, like, a conversion expert!"

Here's the thing. One person will be filling this role.

One person.

Here are just a few examples of specializations that this posting includes:

Someone who acts as your project manager really shouldn't be doing anything but managing your projects.

If you need a lot of HTML and CSS work done on an ongoing basis, even if that person is a good writer, they are only one person. It's hilarious to think they'll also be writing all of the blog and email copy, creating sales funnels and landing pages, managing projects, planning live events... (see how it's starting to sound ridiculous now?).

And someone who knows conversion typically focuses entirely on conversion, because it's difficult and they really have to know their stuff. Even if they're good at some other things, they're only one person. You can find someone who is also decent at conversion, and may even be better than a specialist, but to load them up with totally unrelated things like PR, live events, blog posts, white papers, CSS, SEO, etc, is lunacy.

Managing customer relationships? That's everyone's job, even if you have roles for that. It should be inherent to your company's culture to delight customers, regardless of department. But to put that on one person who's also expected to do everything else?

I could go on, but the point is that it just can't hold. You won't get good quality. And this job posting isn't an extreme or atypical example.

If you really need someone to handle a ton of different things, consider doing the following:

  • Think about your strategy and goals as a company, and see if you can reduce the number of tasks you're asking someone to do. Think about your priorities, and where you want to focus your time and resources, which are limited.
  • The posting should also give an applicant some sense of what the reporting structure is. Ask yourself, if our company grows, what would this person be focusing on? If our company grows, who would this person be reporting to?
  • Don't try to hire someone to do all those things forever. Write up the role with 2-3 things you expect them to be doing longer term, and say, in the short run, we expect this role to fill in some other areas, but in the long run, it will focus on a short list of things.
  • It's fine to say, we're a young company and we need some help with (for instance) Google Analytics and social and some other stuff. But then you can mention, six months out we expect that you'd be building your team and hiring others to take over those functions.
  • Mention how much of each responsibility that person is expected to handle.

Saying that someone's going to have 44 responsibilities indefinitely is totally inefficient. You should hire smart, flexible people who understand that in a startup or a small growth company, they may have to help out with tasks that are tangential to their main responsibilities.

But if you try to overload people with a hundred, often disparate responsibilities on an ongoing basis, you'll never be able to move the needle in the areas that really matter.

images by unsplash

Friday
May122017

How companies can encourage remote employees to volunteer

by Nina Post

I'm burying the lead here, but there are a few truths about big companies:

1. Their people avoid risk like I avoid children and their sticky, E. coli-coated hands.

2. They hire people who have done the exact thing they're hiring for. This may seem obvious, but it's very narrowly defined.

3. The people at the company tend to act in a way that is contradictory to the company's stated values or principles.

4. They have a negative view of volunteering. You can usually assume that any lip service they give to being involved in the community is utterly false, because they really tend to be hostile toward it. If you have five children, they're not at all concerned how that could affect your productivity or dedication to work, but if you volunteer in the community, you might as well be taking trips into space on a highly experimental rocket or going on ayahuasca-fueled walkabouts in the desert. Having children is a federally-protected class; volunteering is not. At many companies, volunteering may be contemplated through some program or another, but not actually encouraged.

What I've been seeing with a number of growth companies, though, is that their values aren't a total joke; they seem to have successfully built a culture around it. All of these companies have a distributed workforce, and one of the upsides of this approach is that people have more flexibility to optimize around what's important to them and the company. Some examples of companies like this are Buffer, Zapier, YNAB, and Baremetrics, to name a few.

I think that most people who truly like being a remote worker have more intrinsic motivation and a stronger productivity system. We work hard, but we like some flexibility. If one of the things that's important to you is volunteering, I don't think a growth company similar to the ones I mentioned above would hold that against you.

And there are a lot of different ways to volunteer, including opportunities that don't require in-person involvement (like hamster-juggling at a home for retired professional tap dancers), and can take advantage of your unique skill set, whether that's accounting, marketing, writing, etc.

The best way to make sure that you support employees who volunteer is to encourage managers to do the same thing themselves, or tie some portion of managers' compensation to the volunteer engagements of their direct reports.

It's more important these days that a company stand for something, especially if you're trying to attract Millennials.

Transparency is also crucial; it's about emphasizing that your company believes in both the organization and the employees giving back to the community, and encourages and celebrates that activity.

One example of a volunteer program at a growth company with a distributed workforce is the Buffer Volunteers Program.

Just the fact that Buffer has a program and comes out to say that it's an important thing is great, but it looks like they're building a really beneficial program, though they say it hasn't been used much yet. In the broader corporate world, most managers view volunteering as something that takes away from productive time at the company, even if you're doing it outside work hours.  

Another really good way for a company to foster volunteering is for the company to actually sponsor a volunteer program (this was one of the things that Buffer discussed). According to the Cone Cause Evolution Study (PDF), three out of four employees want to get involved with their company’s cause-related effort through company-sponsored days of service.

Employees wouldn't be required to participate (as in Buffer's program), but it does catalyze the process a little better. It's nearly impossible for a manager to look at an employee who's volunteering at a company-sponsored nonprofit and dock them somehow -- but then, it should be a part of the culture to the extent that managers don't react negatively to it in the first place.   

One reason why Buffer employees may not be using the program that much yet could be because in previous companies, it was essentially discouraged. To some extent, employee volunteer programs pose a greater challenge with remote teams, because they don't have the physical office location. Most volunteer organizations focus on a particular city or region. If workers are all over the world, you don't have that shared element.

Here are a few ways to promote volunteering in a company with a remote workforce:

  • Assign a buddy to make intros to volunteer opportunities in person and kick things off. This should get easier as a distributed company grows, because they'll eventually have more than one person in the same metro.

  • Get the company involved with a non-profit that has a presence nationwide or worldwide. Social Venture Partners has 40 chapters worldwide, many of which run similar programs. The Seattle instance of SVP Fast Pitch is the biggest of that program in the world, but they do run it in other places.

The Cone Study found that 73% of employees wish their companies would do more to support a social or environmental cause or issue, and that employees involved in company cause programs are 28% more likely to be proud of their company’s values. Given all these benefits, I'm hopeful that more remote teams will adopt organized volunteering programs and give their staff members an opportunity to contribute to the community.

Friday
May052017

Friday Links: Reinventing, Asking Questions, Being Agile

by Nina Post

Talking to Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn

"To help him outperform his younger colleagues, Ross asked himself lots of questions. He would constantly query himself as he read through the assigned texts. After each paragraph, after each sentence, he would ask himself: “What did I just read? How does that fit together? Have I come across this idea before?”"

My husband likes to talk things out for more complicated tasks (he kind of mutters through it), and we find it's really helpful to learn something then explain what we learned right away. Trying to articulate what you just learned and answering questions about it gives you a deeper understanding of it. Here are some of my tips for metacognitive competency.

Guidelines for a pitch practice meetup

In my most recent post, I talked about how get more practice with public speaking. Here's an interview with the guy who started a pitch practice meetup in Atlanta - there are some good details about guidelines and how it's organized.

Doing Agile and Being Agile

"But the wider point is that agile is not just a process, it defines a culture. This is what agile practitioner Michael Sahota described as the difference between doing agile and being agile. It’s the difference between practices and mindset."

Creative Careers Demand Reinvention

"Inventing and re-inventing. Making it work. I always remember something the rapper Ice Cube told me: “Ain’t nobody givin’ up no ass.”

The Secret to Powerful Goal Setting

"Crystal clear goal setting can be really powerful—it’s the type of goal setting that gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you motivated… for the entire year."

The Subtle Art of Living a Good Life: A Conversation with Jonathan Fields and Mark Manson

“A good life isn’t a place that you can mentally get to and then you’re good. It’s a practice. It’s a daily practice, and it builds over weeks and months and years.” Long, but well worth the read.

What You Should Do As Soon As Your Facebook Live Broadcast Ends

"There’s a lot more you can do to squeeze some extra mileage out of your video after the camera turns off.
What can you do to make your live broadcasts as valuable as possible after they end?"

The Germaphobe’s Guide to Airplane Travel

I do all these things: I always wipe down the tray table, everything around me, and everything they hand me with sanitizing wipes. I use a paper towel to touch anything in the bathroom, and would never ever take one of the blankets. Anyone gets too close, I spray them with Lysol.

Have a great weekend!  

Friday
Apr282017

3 ways to practice your public speaking

by Nina Post

Sometimes I hang out and answer questions over at inbound.org, and one of the skills I have listed in my profile is speaking. I've done enough public speaking that it was reflexive to include it, but I'll admit that I'm out of practice.

When you don't get public speaking practice in between speaking events, it makes it much harder to be comfortable with those events. And what do you say to yourself every time? "I really have to get some practice."
 
And when you're an entrepreneur, you're constantly pitching to some audience, either one-on-one or to a group, like a pitch competition or a demo day. You need frequent practice, and what's offered isn't enough.

So whether you're an entrepreneur or just want to get more facile with public speaking, you need consistent, weekly practice in between events. But how do you get that?

1) The first thing to remember is that you don't need to be someone else, and you don't "conquer" your fear. You manage it and get enough practice that you can work through it.

When you're at a pitch competition or any other event where you're speaking, it can feel like you're addressing coyotes that want to devour you. You think that everyone in the audience hates your guts, couldn't care less about you or your company, and can't wait until you get out of their sight -- especially next to the extrovert, who may as well be David Copperfield or Tony Robbins for their ability to bewitch the audience. Or at least it feels that way.


But you don't have to be like them. All you need to be is capable, and make sure people can hear and understand you. The rest will come in time -- if you practice. 

2) Look for any opportunity in your area: pitch competitions, local co-working spaces, and Toastmasters.

If you're participating in a pitch or business plan competition, you should ask if there any opportunities to get feedback on your pitch in a non-competitive environment.

Check co-working spaces in your area. You don't necessarily need a full membership -- you might need only a one-day-a-week pass, or a pass for a few days a month. There are a lot of different variations, so see if the ones near you offer non-competitive practice sessions. Galvanize has the Pitchers & Pitches competition, but I've never seen anything in local co-working spaces that mentions smaller, non-competitive pitch practice with peers. (I thought about starting one myself.)

Another option is Toastmasters, but it costs money to be a member, and there probably aren't many other entrepreneurs in the group. Plus, the locations tend to be... not ideal. But if you're so inclined, you could see where and when local public groups hold meetings, and go check one out. There's no charge for sitting in to see if it's right for you.

4) Your best bet for getting pitch practice is to contact a few other founders you're friends with or know of and see if they're interested in starting a pitch practice group. Competitions aren't frequent enough to get the kind of practice you need to become more facile at public speaking.

If you're not an entrepreneur, you could still try this option. I can tell you that there are very few good options in Seattle, and that smaller pitch practice meetups (or any smaller public speaking meetups) are desperately needed. I'm sure that's the case by you, too.

You could meet at someone's house each time, or in a reserved room at a co-working space. You can build connections with other founders and get much-needed practice with going through your slides and pitch. You could also put up a flyer at co-working spaces and university business schools to promote your pitch meetup to find more interested people.

Each public speaking opportunity helps you refine what you're saying. With enough practice, you no longer worry if you can do it -- it just becomes a matter of how well you're going to do. You can't guarantee you'll do an awesome job, but you know you'll do a decent job. You get comfortable with your baseline, and that's a great asset to bring with you to future pitches.

The important thing is to take action and practice. If you can't find enough opportunities to get public speaking / pitch practice, create one -- and help some other people in a similar situation.

 

pics by Unsplash

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Friday
Apr212017

The most effective strategies for creative incubation and divergent thinking 

by Nina Post


As a company founder, most of the problems you deal with will be divergent problems, which are problems that have no single unique solution but a lot of potential solutions. And before you say anything, I know that most of the problems you encounter can be classified as a shit-storm, shit-cyclone, or shit-nado, and that "a lot of potential solutions" means scrambling to find the best shit-blocking umbrella in the least amount of time.

In any case, you're always in a time crunch, and don't have a lot of time for protracted creative problem solving. Recent studies on Divergent Thinking and Immediate vs. Delayed Incubation will clear up the role of unconscious thought and task interpolation so you can get a better idea of what's effective for a creative problem solving incubation period.

Divergent vs Immediate Incubation

There are two incubation paradigms in the incubation stage of the creative process. This process, according to Graham Wallas, has four stages: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification.

With Delayed Incubation, you work on the problem, go do an undemanding and dissimilar task, and return to the problem for a post-incubation work time.

With Immediate Incubation, you get information on the problem, delay conscious work on it (possibly because you're too busy having a moderate panic attack) -- and do an unrelated task immediately after the main problem, before returning to the problem for uninterrupted work.

Meta-analyses and recent studies reveal that incubation periods, whether delayed or immediate, do have beneficial effects. Delayed Incubation resulted in better decisions than Immediate Incubation, but both types are beneficial relative to no incubation period.

One way to optimize the Delayed Incubation period is to break away for an undemanding task, like cleaning or showering. One meta-analysis showed that the benefits are greater for an undemanding task compared to a demanding task or no task at all.  

Unconscious Work


With Delayed Incubation, “beneficial forgetting” facilitates fresh starts -- AKA “set shifting” -- when you take up the problem again. As you look for the solution to a problem, you might lead yourself down misleading or incorrect paths. Set shifting weakens those paths.

The good news is that Immediate Incubation, though it doesn't allow time for sets to get established, does permit some unconscious work.

There's also support for an even more expedited problem solving process.

The Fresh Look Hypothesis

The Fresh Look hypothesis is a variant of the Beneficial Forgetting approach, and supports the role of attentional shifting in Delayed Incubation. The study indicates that simply removing attention from the target task is sufficient, and that the length of the incubation period or tasks performed during that period isn't important.  

Incubation Options

You have a few options when it comes to the incubation period of the creative problem solving process. When you get information about a problem, you can (1) sit with the problem for a while, then go do an undemanding and dissimilar task before coming back to it. Or you can (2) do an undemanding and dissimilar task immediately then return to the problem (yay). And if you're really pressed for time, (3) just shift your attention to something else and then come back to the problem. Ideally, you'd do the first one: work on the problem for a bit, then go do an undemanding and dissimilar task before returning to the "three-ring shit show" that is your life at the moment.

gifs by giphy.com

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