10 reasons you’ll lose talent in 2019...

As part of Leeds Digital Festival, I was asked by my friend Mark Kelly (Agency Growth Coach) to give a talk to a room full of agency leaders around how digital creative agencies could/should go about finding, retaining and developing their talent. This is that talk in blog form.

‘Finding’ talent in the first place is tough - really tough. After 15+ years of doing it for a living, it’s still a struggle to boil that down to a 20 minute talk so I tackled something a bit a different, focusing instead on the complete opposite; the reasons why agencies might lose the talent they already have!

Bear with me here because it is, in my experience, the way you treat you current staff and the culture you’ve developed along the way, that’s by far and away the most effective tool you have for attracting new talent to your agency. And hopefully, by pointing some of these reasons out, it’ll help you avoid them and therefore, avoid the needless cycles of finding replacements and having to treat all recruitment as a firefighting exercises.

So, before we dive in, a line or two about me for those of you that don’t know me already…

I left art school back in 2002 and after failing as a full-time graphic designer, I started working as a recruiter within the creative sector in 2004, setting up on my own, as Character Creative, in 2006. 

Since then I’ve worked with loads of creative agencies and over the years I’ve helped build teams that have delivered award winning work for businesses and brands all over the world.

I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. Within agencies that are big, small and inbetween and these reasons are pretty universal - no matter what the size or make-up of the organisation.

I speak to a lot of people - particularly people that are frustrated in their current roles and who’d like some help to move on. And over the years, I’ve come to recognise some patterns in those conversations - particularly when it comes to the real reasons people want to leave.

So, in a somewhat logical order…

1. You ‘tell’ and don’t ‘ask’

Are you micro-managing your creatives - using them as nothing more than ‘mac monkeys’?

Are you micro-managing your creatives - using them as nothing more than ‘mac monkeys’?

In my experience the best agencies are run as democracies - it’s probably a philosophy every agency sets out with - sure, they have structure and management, but everyone has a voice and is everyone is heard.

However, despite these claims, it’s a lack of influence or a general feeling of being under-mined that’s easily the number one reason for talented people wanting to leave their jobs.

It comes ahead of money, promotions, holidays or fancy perks - the feeling that you’re listened to and ‘valued’ is more important ANYTHING else.

Take a minute to think about the word Undermine -

It’s the compound of… 

Under + Mine 

In this circumstance, two definitions stand out:

- to not make the most of an available resource. 

- to lessen the effectiveness, power or ability of something (or someone), especially gradually or insidiously.

Corrosive and detrimental stuff. Not good.

Without a watchful eye on behaviours, it’s easier than you think to get here and become more of a dictatorship rather than the democracy you set out to be. 

And it’s understandable too - chances are, you been around the block, seen it, heard it and done it before - multiple times - so more often than not, before you’ve even been asked the question, you’re ready with an answer - or at least you think you are. The temptation then is to throw that answer straight at the team and task them with the execution rather than involving them in the conversation in the first place. It’s faster, *easier* and less effort - for you you at least.

My advice; even if you *think* you know the answer, ask it anyway. 

At worst; you come to the same conclusion you thought you were going to anyway. But at least you’ve engaged your team and made them *part of the process* rather than just have them carry out instruction.

At best: you get a solution you’d never thought of, a better one, a more concise one, more radical, more impactful. Imagine that?

I’m not suggesting you turn the fate of every project over to staff that might still be unproven but lean on them. Challenge them. With inexperienced staff, do it when you’ve got the safety net of your rock solid solution up your sleeve anyway. They’ll like it. Even if they don’t tell you.

After all, you’ve spent good money on acquiring the‘talent’ in the first place so using them as nothing more than instruments to issue instruction to is a waste - for everyone.

It’s also a sure fire way to see them out the door pretty quickly.

BTW, aren’t we an industry that takes pride in the fact that, for many of our best creatives, this is more than a job - it’s a calling anyway?

2. You promised the Earth

You’ll need more than fussball and beanbags to get people to stick around.

You’ll need more than fussball and beanbags to get people to stick around.

If you’re losing people within weeks or months of their start dates, it’s almost definitely for this reason - 

You’ve (or they) have over promised on the role you’ve put them in.

“The role I’ve got is not definitely NOT what they sold me!”

“I’m basically just art working”.

You’d be really surprised how often I hear things like this. 

You can have all the beanbags, Fussball tables and artisan coffee you like but if the role sucks, you’ll get found out sooner than you think. In a competitive market, where good people can sometimes get multiple offers, that can happen within a day or two! I know a designer that walked within 24 hrs!

Don’t get me wrong, like all the other reasons on this list, it’s understandable - the market’s competitive so there’s always a temptation to sell someone the dream and miss out on some of the mundanity of the day to day.

Solve this by articulating what it is you’re aiming for - a direction of travel - that’s ’the dream’ if you like, but be honest about the here and now too - the short term vs the long term - say things like…

‘we’re trying to get here - we’re moving closer, but there’s a way to go - and we’re hoping you’ll be a really important part of helping us get there.’

That invitation to come along for the ride, to ‘roll up their sleeves’ and ‘get stuck in’ and - importantly - to have a say in what happens next - can actually be even more enticing than the dream itself. People love to be a part of something bigger, to help build it. When you get them there, they’re much more invested too so therefore, much more likely to stick around for longer to enjoy the fruits of that labour.

It requires some faith of course, if that vision of the short term pain puts some perceivably good people off, have faith that you’re much better off knowing that now than in 6 months time and having to repeat the cycle all over again. 

3. Lack of progress

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If people are hanging around a bit longer then 2nd on the list of reasons is normally, lack of progression

It’s sounds a bit ‘X Factor’ but most people like to feel like they’re on ‘a journey’. Especially when it comes to their careers.

For ambitious, young creatives - in particular - feeling like you’re ‘standing still’ feels more like you’re falling behind.

And whilst money isn’t everything, it does play a part. A small pay rise is often worth much than the value of the money itself in the minds of your talent. It’s a gesture of good will, an acknowledgement of a job well done, a sign that they’re moving forwards and making progress.

If you still think…

“Pay checks at the end of the month are reward enough!”

You’re in trouble.

That *might* be true in some industries but it’s definitely not in ours - not if you want people to hang around. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think pay rises should be a given just for ‘time served’ and it’s not the only answer, but if someone’s adding value and delivering on what you’ve asked for, it’s a really good and obvious place to start when it comes to demonstrating they’re making progress.

There are other ways of course - training and development courses, mentorships, memberships to clubs and industry bodies and a bunch of other perks but I’ll save that for a future post.

All in all, think about giving people realistic, agreed upon and measurable targets so that when you next sit down to talk you’ve got something real to discuss and measure against.

4. Cronyism 

Are you part of an old boys club?

Are you part of an old boys club?

Have a look around your studio - what’s the make-up of your management team? Is it filled with people that look at bit like you? That sound a bit like you? That hold the same sorts of opinions as you?

Is that a good thing or could you do with mixing things up a bit?

Is your agency about challenging the status quo? Or is it just about doing things like they’ve always been done? If it’s the former - which I expect it is - then you should be practicing what you preach here too.

Like our previous reason - lack of progression - for your talent, the perception that their career path is blocked by their bosses ‘cronies’ - despite their shortcomings - is hugely frustrating and another surefire route to the exit door.

This one’s a realisation that might take a few months or a few years for your talent to come to - the crucial thing is though, you’ll often not hear about it until it’s too late - if at all - so regular ‘sense checks’ on this are a good idea.

Remember: 

“You can’t be what you can’t see” 

So be mindful of that whenever you’re making decisions about who to promote. Don’t just think about the person involved, consider the impact on the wider team and the workforce in general. What does it say to them?

If you want EVERYONE to feel like THEY can make progress too, whoever gets those promotions are the clearest signals you’ve got for demonstrating that’s possible.

5. You’re living off past glories.

I’m bored, stupid!

I’m bored, stupid!

Sometimes things start off well but go downhill. Lulls in new, exciting work are one thing but if a designer gets stuck on the same account, doing repetitive, cyclical work (perhaps because they’re a really safe pair of hands) over time, there’s a good chance they’re be on their bike too.

Be aware of this happening and if you know you’re likely to be putting really mundane stuff in front of someone for an extended period of time, try and build in snippets of interesting stuff along the way - even if it’s some self initiated agency work.

Variety is the the spice live, especially for creatives.

So if they can’t get it with you, they’ll naturally go looking elsewhere.

6. Work/life balance

Get me home!

Get me home!

Fortunately, as an industry, I think we’ve moved past the days of the 100hr work weeks and pulling ‘all-nighters’ every other night. There’s still room for improvement though. 

Don’t get me wrong, most creatives that are passionate about what they do will be more than happy to put the hours in when it matters most, but building a culture of ‘first in, last out’ can be really harmful in the long run - particularly if you want to keep hold of people for more than a few months.

“My boss won’t let me work late.” said no one. Ever.

Let people stay late if/when it matters but also, no one has ever said to me that their reason for leaving is that their boss doesn’t let them work late so, when you can, kick them out door at home time.

7. You don’t go the extra mile

I’ll be there for you…?

I’ll be there for you…?

Any good relationship is a two way street. Sometimes things go well, sometimes they don’t - for all of us - and we rely on our friends to help us get back on our feet.

If you’re relying on your people to pull you out of the fire when the pressure’s on and the deadlines are looming then it’s only fair that you’re prepared to do the same for them.

If you’re not, guess what? They’ll walk.

Have some leeway. Give the benefit of the doubt at times and do your best to let them know where to go if/when they’re struggling and they need help.

8. No support

In contrast to our first reason - “telling and not asking”, or what might be called ‘micro-management’ this is the other end of the scale - ‘macro-management’ - giving over excessive amounts of responsibility with little to no support or guidance in place. 

Sometimes designers can complain too much about restrictions on briefs - being hemmed in by guidelines etc - but I think you need some boundaries - it gives you something to push up against - and the same is true within the studio. Freedom is great but it’s helpful to knowing where the lines are, whilst also knowing where to escalate if and when it’s needed.

9. Domino effect.

Careful …careful…

Careful …careful…

So you might doing great and you’ve a team of people that have hung around for years - they’re happy, productive and everything is rosy …until …one person leaves, then another, then another… and before to long, you’ve got a real crisis on your hands.

It happens A LOT but before we talk about what you can do, let’s look at the final reason, as they’re kinda of connected…

10. They’ve just ‘done their time’

Forks in the road…

Forks in the road…

Some times people have just done their time and they leave - and that’s ok. Not everyone can stay forever and in fact, at times, it’s a good thing - it’s an opportunity for you to provide something really important to the studio:

Freshness.

Let me point you towards a study by Professor Brian Uzzi on Q Theory.

Brian is a Professor of Leadership and Organisational Change at Northwestern University and back in 2005 he wrote a paper on Collaboration and Creativity.

In the paper he looked at Broadway Musicals between 1945 and 1989, studying their box office success and critical acclaim with aim of finding out:

“what’s the makeup of the teams that produce the most successful Broadway shows?”

He came up with something called ‘Q theory’ as the answer - I won’t go into detail here (this is a great summary though) but the gist was that finding a blend of people was key.

Teams made up solely of those that had worked together previously struggled to break new ground - they knew what had worked before so tended to stick to the same formula. 

Teams made up of completely new members were uncomfortable and inhibited around each other so tended to play it too safe.

The magic formula was a bit of both - enough continuity to create a safe space, mixed with some fresh faces to provide new ideas and different perspectives.

For me, the same is true in commercial creative agencies too.

My point is that when people do leave, and they will, you should look at this as an opportunity to evolve rather than a problem to solve.

And to get back to my previous point - the domino effect - be aware of the knock on effects when people do leave. When notices are served, do an exit interview, no holds barred, and try to understand why they’re leaving. That way, if issues are raised, you’ve a chance of getting ahead of it and hopefully you can keep casualties to a minimum.

And that’s sort of it. All in all, keep an eye on all these things and you’ll have a great chance of making your work force a happy one - and - like I said at the beginning - that’s your best possible chance of getting new talent to join you.

Good luck and fingers crossed if we’re speaking in the future, it’ll be a positive conversation about expansion rather than replacement!

Football badges - a designer's worst nightmare?

Is there a tougher brief than the redesign of a famous football club's badge?

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As an Everton fan, I'm no stranger to terrible badges - see a previous rant - but Leeds' effort seems to have exploded to a point well beyond that. If the conspiracy theorists are correct, then kudos!

I’m not going to write an essay on why these things need changing - why does any logo need changing (this is a rhetorical question so steady on there!) - but why is it so hard?

As a kid, surely your dream would've been to design the crest on your team's shirts? I can still remember ripping off Italia '90’s Ciao (the stick man) for my under 11's side and *everyone*(*I*) thought it was ace! (...I played as a sweeper, so we were already embracing a continental mentality - classy!)

Nostalgia for one thing.

It’s super powerful stuff. Some people like to call it ‘heritage’ or ‘history’ but it’s the same thing really - chances are you ‘fell in love’ with your team as a kid and I bet the badge they wore on their chests back then is your favourite. It is for me (the same is true of the kits btw - that yellow one with the blue stripe was the dogs nuts!)

Trouble is, fans come in all shapes and sizes (and ages) so you’re bang up against it landing something that pleases everyone there. Trying to encapsulate something from each era is one tactic but you’re on dodgy ground there - include everything and you’ll end up with a dogs dinner of a badge with way too much going on....

Yuck.

Secondly, football fans can’t, won’t, MUSTN’T, ‘switch sides’.

Butcher the Coke logo and I’ll (begrudgingly at first) go buy a Pepsi. I will not, under any circumstances, start waving a red scarf for, them lot across the park. 

That tribal loyalty is so ingrained that I still won’t buy a Candy washing machine or Crown paints either. And I’m not alone - back in the 80’s, Zanussi famously dropped their sponsorship of Real Madrid after their sales plummeted in Catalonia.

Pride.

When you boil it all down, it’s what supporting a team is all about. You might not be winning the league season in, season out but you’re in it together - the good and the bad - and often it’s coming back from depths of despair that are the sweetest moments (Barry Horne will always have a special place in my heart).

All that means is that when your club lumbers you with a dog of a badge, it’s yours too ...whether you like it or not. And, unlike an unwanted Christmas jumper, you can’t just shove it to the back of a cupboard, you’re gonna have to wear it all season long (or for the next 100 years, apparently!) and that’s gonna hurt.

For what it's worth, I think the ‘idea’ comes from a good place - a point particularly well articulated by Matt Wilson here.

“What’s our most valuable asset?”

“Our fans.”

“Well, let’s put ‘them’ at the heart of our badge then. Literally”

Spurs got it right back in ‘06, beautifully capturing heritage and history in a clean modern crest. They’re the exception and not the rule though. We (Everton) very definitely got it wrong in ‘13 and, whilst some might disagree, I think Juventus got theirs wrong last year too.

Hit

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Miss

So, over to you LUFC. Well done on your swift response to the outcry and good luck on getting it right next time - the eyes of the football world are on you!

Building culture

Barely a day goes by without the word 'culture' featuring heavily in my conversations. It’s become a sort of catch-all phrase and having a ‘great’ one is something lots of agencies can be fiercely proud and protective of - and rightly so. It's also a great get-out-jail-free card when it comes to delivering negative interview feedback;  "they're good but we don't feel like they fit our culture".

But what does it really mean and what can you do to make sure your's is a positive one?

Here's what I think...

For the most part, you can substitute the word ‘culture’ for ‘brand’ - the parallels are easy to draw; a logo mark/swanky office is merely a symbol of a brand/culture. What matters is how it’s ‘lived’ - it’s that experience that becomes known as the brand/culture.

So, whether you like it or not, like every business has a ‘brand’, every business also has a ‘culture’. The pertinent question for a business owner/manager is what are you doing to shape that culture and does it have a positive or negative impact on what you're doing?

Signs of a negative culture are obvious; unhappy, underperforming people with low energy and little to no motivation. Those characteristics are clearly not conducive to delivering your best work and left to fester, they'll lead to a toxic working environment and high staff turnover.

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You can get new staff, of course - albeit expensive - but until you tackle the root cause, those new recruits will become disenchanted too and you'll find yourself in a vicious cycle. Not good.

On the flip side, a positive culture demonstrates things like openness, engagement, support, empathy, genuine team spirit and (friendly) competition - the polar opposite of those negative traits ...obviously.

Engender these traits and you've got happy workers that stick around, all pull in the same direction, produce OUTSTANDING work and, as an added bonus, when it’s time to recruit (properly, this time), you've got an environment that's super attractive to people on the outside.

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So now we know the difference, what are some of the things you can do to build and shape yours?

*tenuous link time* like a designer's mastery of typography, colour, layout and imagery can influence a person's perception of a brand, the best proponents of culture implement techniques, create rules and behaviours that can help shape and influence culture.

Here's how...

1. Set the tone.

Trickle down economics might have its critics but if you run the show, you have to set an example. Culture absolutely starts at the top - if you can't live by it how can you expect others to?

Example: unlike the stereotypical CEO of a multi-billion dollar firm, Mark Zuckerberg famously doesn’t have a corner office. Like everyone else, he sits at a workstation in an open plan, communal space. If you want to encourage openness and teamwork then this might be a good place to start.

In short, if there’s a value you want everyone in the organisation to subscribe to, make damn sure you do too.

2. Show gratitude.

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Super simple but say thank you when someone does a good job. It’s amazing how much impact such a small thing has and it’s even more amazing how often it’s ignored.

Don't listen to the Alan Sugar’s of the world telling you that ‘getting a paycheck at the end of the month ought to be ‘thanks enough!’ In our industry, it isn’t. Especially when it comes time to ask people to go above and beyond.

“Remind your valuable people that they’re valued.”

Celebrate and praise the wins and look for milestones - be it; client feedback, awards, sales targets, time served, birthdays or whatever. Make a fuss, remind your valuable people that they’re valued and make that an ongoing task.

Remember, replacing people is tough. Replacing your best people is really tough.

3. Listen.

The culture is not yours alone, it belongs to everyone, so open your ears to what others think. Having influence is a huge part of feeling valued and a part of something bigger.

Good ideas and solutions can come from anywhere so make sure EVERYONE has a chance to contribute. You don’t always have to take on board what people suggest but if you want to build a genuine team, you at least need to hear them out.

4. Don’t fear failure.

Knowing people have your back is another cornerstone of a great working culture. If innovation, challenging the status-quo and breaking the mould are amongst your marketing mantras then you need to accept that, more often than not, you’ll need to break things and fail A LOT before you deliver.

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Game-changing solutions rarely (never) arrive at the first time of asking. Accept that and give your team permission and the space to fail without fearing the repercussions and help them pick up the pieces when it happens. It really is critical.

5. Encourage teamwork and collaboration.

You want a team that actually enjoy spending time with each other - the occasional ‘work night-out’ is great but beware of ‘forced fun’ and instead allow relationships to flourish more naturally.

Google’s 20 program sounded great in theory but in reality, the most successful creative environments are those that allow people the space to push boundaries and explore new ideas at any time. Ever sat down with the express intention of ‘being creative?’ Nah, me neither, it doesn’t really work like that, does it?

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I know we’re all under pressure to deliver on time and often, nothing sharpens the mind like a deadline, but it’s worth building in some slack from time to time too.

6. Be consistent.

It's all well and good doing the right thing when the sun shines but it's even more important when the s*** hits the fan. It's about having faith in people, backing their abilities and believing in your process.

Get it right and a positive culture can be a great asset when the chips are down.

7. Don't confuse perks/big paychecks with culture.

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You can provide all the artisan coffee, yoga classes, bean bags, casual Fridays and pawternity leave as you like but it'll all be for nothing if you don't get the fundamentals right. Perks and benefits are great but they’re the cherry on top - not the cake.

And finally...

8. Accept that some people will leave.

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Ok, so given how I make a living, I realise this *might* be a self-serving point of view, but people leaving is ok. In fact, it can be a good thing.

Rob Gray (of Squad) wrote an excellent post on creativity that pointed me towards Brian Uzzi’s study into the success of Broadway musicals. Many of the findings apply in business - especially businesses in the creative sector.

I’m paraphrasing here, but the study found that the most successful productions tended to be those that had a core of people providing continuity, blended with newcomers that provided fresh perspectives and impetus.

Productions composed of entirely new casts were held back because the unfamiliarity inhibited people. Those composed of a team totally familiar with one another struggled to break new ground.

So, providing you have that ‘core’ of continuity, someone leaving your organisation gives you the opportunity to bring new ideas and energy to the party and that’ll help move your business forward - hopefully building an even better culture!

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So there we have it, a mega complicated subject distilled into just over 1200 words! ...or maybe not.

There’s obviously plenty more to write on this subject but hopefully, this will have provided food for thought. Leave a comment, drop me a line or give me a call if you fancy digging a bit deeper. :)

5 signs you should stay put

Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people who “hate their boss”, are “sick of the politics”, and “fed up of the unpaid overtime / clueless clients / unless AM team / *insert whatever else here*”. I listen, let them get it off their chest and a lot of the time, help them remember that in actual fact, they quite like their job after all.

Misconceptions aside, being a good recruiter is not all about encouraging people to switch jobs like they switch their underwear - there are times when jumping ship isn’t the answer - even people in their dream jobs have bad days - so sometimes, you’re right to stay put

...even if you need a little help to realise it.

So, with that in mind, to help you get a clearer picture in your brain before making any drastic changes, here are five simple yet solid signs you might not need to clear your desk anytime soon!


1). You wake up happy

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Okay so, granted not everybody is a morning person… (without caffeine) - but you’d be surprised how psyched you can be to get the day rolling, even if it does require leaving your bed at an ungodly hour. When you love what you do, waking up really isn’t all that bad!

2). You’re ready to attack your to-do list

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Clients to call? You got this. Project brief to write? Piece. of. cake. Content to come up with? Bring it on.

Sure, not every day can be a gift from the Gods, and some days can be frustrating… (that’s totally normal, btw) - but generally; you thrive off getting things done, and you love knowing you’ve played your part in the bigger picture.

3). You enjoy helping your co-workers, and they have your back, too

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Office politics are practically a different language to you and your team. You are one, and you work as such, too! Your colleagues know they can always lean on you for advice, help or just someone to bounce ideas off of, and vice versa - without any hidden agenda or expectations lurking in the back of your (or their) brain. #teamworkmakesthedreamwork

4). You’re an eager beaver

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Sliding down your chair and hiding under the desk in hopes of not being given more work to do couldn’t be further from your reality. You actually enjoy being given more tasks, and you get excited to put your two cents in on new projects.

5). Your company cares about you

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It’s not all about what you can do for them, and your company continues to prove that to you. They encourage you to live your best life, and make sure you’re feeling tops in every aspect - from health and wellbeing, to creativity and growth. When you’re winning, they are, too!


So there you have it. Did you relate to any of these signs? If so, take a few deep breaths, drink some coffee, shake it off and get ready for a brand new day. Everything’s gonna be fine - you got this.

YOU’RE FIRED...!

Now, unfortunately for you, this isn’t an episode of The Apprentice and no, we’re not casually deciphering Alan Sugar’s latest victim on a comfortable couch over a glass of wine (or whatever your choice of beverage may be). This is your life.

Yup, your (now ex) boss just uttered the two most feared words in the entire workplace in your direction and, well - what the hell do you do now?

Let’s face it, getting fired sucks, and it’s easy to react kind of like this:

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But I’m going to stop you right there.

First of all, let me reiterate that it’s going to be okay, so take a few deep, cleansing breaths and rest easy in the knowledge that almost every employee worth their salt has been right where you are, right now - especially in the creative industries. Seriously, George Lois made a career out of it!

Losing your job doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bad at what you do. In fact, it’s almost a ‘it’s not you, it’s me…’ type of situation. And fortunately for you, we’ve got you covered on the most important bases to get you back on your A game in 0-100.

1) Do. Not. Panic.

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So your boss broke up with you. Not great, but not the end of the world. I know, I know ‘easy for you to say!...’ *eyeroll*, and that’s an understandable reaction - but I can say it because I’ve lived through it. Don’t skim over the operative word here - lived. You’ll survive this too, so don’t run around like a headless chicken frantically sending CV’s into cyberspace faster than Usain Bolt crosses a finish line because frankly, it won’t do you any favours. If you’re lucky enough to get a follow-up, you more than likely won’t remember a single thing about the company, or even the position you applied for - and how embarrassing would that be? Not to mention unprofessional. You’re better than that.

Sure, beggars can’t be choosers, but you’re not a beggar… yet. So, as much of a sucker punch as it feels right now, take a moment to really absorb what’s happened, understand why, and know that it’s absolutely not going to last forever.

Perspective makes a world of difference. Allow yourself some time to let it out, regroup and come back focused - even if it’s just a couple of days (having said that - keep it to a couple of days… you don’t want to wallow, either). You’ll be glad you did. Promise.

2). Don’t Make This a PSA

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Public Service Announcement: People talk - and in the age of the internet, things spread fast and last forever no matter how many times you press the delete button. So with that in mind, make a conscious effort to limit your venting, to a small amount of very trustworthy family or friends (and that means OFF of social media).

Although it’s tempting to share your story with anyone who will listen whilst you’re still reeling from dismissal, it’s also tempting for those people to mention it in casual conversation to the wrong person, and that can have a big knock-on effect on your employability in the future - because everyone know’s a guy who knows a girl who knows your future boss. So be smart with your choice of agony aunt and save your thoughts for your inner circle.

3). Do Your Homework

Once you’ve taken some time to yourself and feel less overwhelmed by the prospect of your future, it’s time to get your game face on. At this stage, it’s really going to help if you have a clear vision of the kind of job you want, and the qualities you want from the companies you’ll be approaching. This needs to be a tactical, strategic job search - not a slap-dash, knee-jerk, fly poster exercise.

Think about:

Your previous job - what was it?

How ideal was that position for you?

Is that something you’d like to get back into?

If the answer to that last question was a resounding no, then ask yourself what your dream job would be - and if, realistically that’s something you can’t attain - what job is going to get you closer to that goal? Sidenote: this is the part where you get your pen and paper out. I’ll wait for you to do that...

...ready? Okay!

Make a list/brainstorm/whatever works for you, lay it all out and arm yourself with it whenever you’re considering an application. Outline the most important attributes a company should have and consider the following:

  • What kind of work environment is best for you? (BIG team, small team, structured or flat, quiet and contemplative, NOISY and energetic?)

  • What do you value the most? (earnings, social bonding, creative freedom, recognition, awards, career growth?)

There are no right answers, just the right answers for you.

Once you’ve figured that out, you’ve got a checklist to measure each role by. You’re unlikely to be able to tick all the boxes on the list but now you know what matters most you'll know where to focus your attention most.

4). Be Honest

I know I said to limit your ‘I got fired’ story to close family and friends, but one person you do need to include in your honesty circle, is your next employer. Now, I’m not saying walk right into your next interview and announce ‘I was terminated!’ before your interviewer has a chance to get a word in edgeways, not at all. But - tempting as it may be - don’t go spinning any yarns.

Here’s the thing, pretty much every interviewer will ask why you left your last job - so it’s gonna pay to be prepared with a truthful answer. It’s how you spin that answer that’s going to leave a lasting impression. Even if you didn’t exactly leave your last position under the best of circumstances, you can still portray yourself in a positive light.

Maybe your boss could put a movie villain to shame, maybe you piped up when you should have piped down - maybe both. It was just a bad situation all round. Now I’m going to show you the difference between ‘spinning’ your answer to help you put your best foot forward.

Negative: ‘My last boss was a tool. He had no idea what he was doing and everyone hated him. He was obviously threatened by me - that’s why he got rid of me.”

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Funny as this might read, versions of this ‘explanation’ are more commonplace than you’d think. It might well be the ‘truth’ but it’s not the sort of truth that’s going to get a prospective employer to push the button on hiring you.

Let’s try putting a positive spin on it.

Positive: ‘There were some differences of opinion between my boss and I and in the end, we decided it would be best to part ways. I take responsibility for my part in the way things turned out. But, despite it not being ideal, I learned a lot from the experience and I wish them well.’

Not so bad, right?! You’ve made it clear things didn’t work out as planned but have also demonstrated your ability to rise above it and move on with without holding any grudges.

People accept that we make mistakes… that’s what humans do - it’s what we learn from them that separates us. One bad move on a CV is forgivable. Your troubles will start if you start racking up three or four consecutively. Follow this guide and with any luck, it won’t come to that!

And on that note, go forth and get hired. You’ve got this!

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My favourite podcasts ...right now

Commutes on a rammed Northern Rail service are made somewhat bearable if I've got a decent podcast on the go. But what do you do when you've run out of content by mid-week? Find some new ones of course! And here are some of my best picks...

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99% Invisible

It'll come as no surprise that this makes the list - I've mentioned it in loads of tweets and newsletters over the years - their content lands squarely in the middle of the territory I operate in. Roman Mars is your host and he tells stories of some of the most effective (yet mostly unnoticed) designs in the world

There are episodes on Lance Wyman, Frank Lloyd Wright and loads more but, at the risk of shaming myself, two of my favourites are the design of the carpet at Portland's airport (...no really, check it out!) and one on flags. Rock 'n Roll!

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Note to Self

One from WNYC's stable here, Note to Self is a weekly, tech focused, podcast that deals with the human side of tech - how it's enhanced our lives as well as the price we've paid along the way. Their recent episode, "Should We Post Photos of our Kids Online" was a real head scratcher for me and is a great example of what they do best.

Check out the Note to Self podcast here.

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Radiolab

Another from WNYC, Radiolab - perhaps along with This American Life - sort of feels like the Grandaddy of podcasts.

It's not just the content that rules here, the audio production is incredible. The very best episodes are truly immersive and you'll lose hours of your life to it before you know it. 

They've an archive stretching back years so if you're yet to discover it, you'll have hours and hours of incredibly thought-provoking and super interesting content to get your teeth into.

Here's three of the best to get you started:

Colors

Bliss

Lost & Found

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Freakonomics Radio

Prolific podcaster Stephen Dubner, alongside co-host and economics professor, Steve Levitt explore 'the hidden side of everything' in this podcast loosely based on economics.

I wouldn't describe myself as someone that's that into numbers but they do an amazing job of applying economic principles to almost anything, sometimes giving you a completely new perspective.

Again, they have a whole back catalogue of content to go at but try these two to get you started:

The Three hardest words

Chuck E.Cheese's

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Invisiblia

The latin word for "Invisible forces" Invisiblia explores the reasons and theories of human behaviour. 

It's not as rich in history as some others on the list - it only started in 2015 -  but there are some cracking episodes out there. Check out: The Problem with the Solution.

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The Adam Buxton Podcast

Some of you reading this won't be old enough to remember the Adam & Joe show. Nevertheless, you should check out this wonderfully silly and at times profoundly heartwarming podcast, from Adam Buxton.

The format takes the shape of on the road interviews with other comics, singer/songwriters, film directors and actors.

There are some 40 odd episodes so plenty to go at. A favourite of mine is this one with his old pal, Louis Theroux

Enjoy!

Onboarding - get it right

The design and tech industries in the UK are booming so it won't be news to you that there's a real talent shortage at the moment (that's a whole other post).

Finding the 'right' candidate takes time and costs A LOT (not just recruitment fees!) so when you do find the right person, it's never been more important to give them the best possible chance of succeeding.

That means getting your 'onboarding' process right from the get-go and that doesn't just mean from the hirer's point of view (shiny welcome packs n'all) - the candidate and their new colleagues play their part in the process too.

I've built my reputation on finding the right fit but once the candidate walks in on their first day, my influence on their success is minimal. They're in their new employer's hands, so for the good of your business and your career, it's time to step up - both of you.

"don't expect the moon on a stick."

Hirers

So you've hired someone. You've defined their role and you're confident they're the right person for the job. Congratulations. 

They might have a month's notice (or longer) to serve but your onboarding process starts now. Don't leave them on on their own whilst they work their notice - keep in touch and get them into your business whenever you can to develop the relationship you've been building over the interview process. This doesn't have to be a formal thing, but if there's a briefing on a project they'll be involved in, or simply a couple of beers after work one evening, get them over!

Bringing your new starter into the fold early is a great way to introduce them to the team and means there'll be some familiar, (and hopefully) friendly faces staring back at them on that scary first day.

When their first day does arrive don't expect the moon on a stick.

I know recruiters love to use the term 'hit the ground running' but in reality that DOESN'T HAPPEN! Everyone ...EVERYONE.., at whatever level, needs a period of time to get comfortable. Do not expect fireworks the minute they walk in the door and do not set them to work on complex projects at the break of dawn.

Do, welcome them aboard and get them introduced to their team and anyone else they're likely to deal with. Do make sure you've booked out your diary that day to help them settle in and to get them excited about what they're about to embark on. And, crucially, do identify a clear channel for them to go to if they have questions in the days and weeks to come. If you've got the numbers, an employee buddy scheme could be a great option for this (google it - there are loads of examples online).

Check in often. Not just at the end of the first week but at the end of week two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight ...and so on. This might only be a quick 5-10 minute chat but it's so important and it'll help flag any potential issues before they develop into full-blown problems. Probationary periods are typically three months but in reality, it's likely to be nearer six months before your new starter will be fully up-to-speed. Keep that in mind and know that keeping regular, scheduled contact going will help them get there quicker.

All in all, common sense and understanding is what's needed. If you're clear and open with your new starter, give them the space and opportunity to feedback on their experience and don't expect too much too soon, you can be confident you've given them the best chance.

New starters.

You aced the interview and got the job. Well done!

Don't rest on your laurels though. Make sure you're in contact with and available to your new employers as much as you can be - even if you're serving notice.

If you're invited over whilst serving your notice, do your best to get there. Want to know about parking? Forgot to mention a holiday you've booked? Get in touch and ask the question or let them know and make sure you're not dropping any bombshells the moment you walk through the door.

Be enthusiastic. You really wanted this job so don't be afraid to let that show.

Got niggles? Don't be afraid to feedback - the right way of course - and make it clear you want to be a part of ironing them out.

Get to work. You'll be cut some slack in those early days but don't take the piss. You're being paid from day one so get to work proving you've been a great investment and get your teeth into things as soon as you can.

Colleagues.

It's easy to underestimate but as an existing team member, you have a huge say in your new colleague success or failure.

If you work for a dynamic, forward-thinking business that's constantly evolving then embracing new starters should be par for the course. They bring fresh perspectives and new ideas. They keep you sharp, helping you get better so you need to play your part in helping them settle in.

It's a statement of the obvious but that starts with making them feel welcome. We can all remember what a 'first day in the office' is like. Those early days can be stressful so something as simple as saying "hello" in the morning and "see you later" at the end of the day can make all the difference.

Give them the inside track. If they're new to the area let them know about popular haunts and give them the heads up on what they can expect from the softer, social side of things - i.e. "on Friday's a bunch of us like to go for post work drinks here" etc.

Talk to them about the company. Why you joined, where you came from, what you keeps you there and what you're hoping the future holds.

Be a resource for them and let them know you're there if they need you.

High-five for stock images!!!

High-five for stock images!!!

 

This is not an entire root and branch examination of the onboarding process (drop me a line and we can talk about that) but hopefully, it will give you a few things to bear in mind the next time someone new lands in your business.

In my professional life, there's nothing worse than hearing things haven't worked out for someone. If that's anything to do with you still harbouring the old fashioned sink or swim mentality then your days as an attractive proposition to talent are numbered and your reputation will be in tatters in no time. There's way too much competition out there and your perfect candidate will simply go there instead.

Get it right and you can build a different type of reputation. One that your current employees and new starters can wax lyrically about and one that might just put you ahead of the pack when it comes to landing future talent.

Have you got your own thoughts on the good the bad and the ugly of onboarding? Let me know in the comments. 

Leeds Digital Festival '17 - a review.

Wow ...whisper it quietly, but I think they might actually have done it...

I think Leeds might actually have a proper, grown-up, outward looking, progressive and downright fun and celebratory digital festival! Amazing!

In case you missed it, last week was Digital Festival week and there were stacks and stacks and stacks of events all over Leeds highlighting much of the awesome stuff that's happening in the city.

It was impossible to get to everything of course but I did my best to get out and see as much as I could. Here's what I did and some of the takeaways I picked up along the way.

Monday morning: How to have Difficult Conversations.

Easily the least 'digital' thing I attended all week but interesting non-the-less.

The event was hosted at the brilliant Futurelabs by Emma Cheshire and was a panel discussion (there was a lot of that) featuring a couple of - surprising friendly - employment law specialists from 3volution and Ruth Richards - an independent HR professional. 

The event's aim was to give advice on those conversations that none of us likes to have but that are sometimes necessary. We all hope that every hire we make turns out well, sometimes they don't though so knowing how best to deal with those situations is a great tool to have.

What we got from all the panellists was practical advice on how to make sure you're the right side of the law if/when you do have a show someone the door. Better than that though, they also shared sensible, common sense advice on how and when to deliver that type of news and the steps you can take along the way to make sure it really is a last resort.

The next time I'm having a 'difficult conversation' with one of my clients I definitely won't be afraid to point them towards Ruth or 3volution if I think they could use some help.

Monday morning: A Creative's Guide to Earning a Living from the Work you Love.

I reckon Matt Essam might be a bit of a rising star on the creative/motivational speaking circuit - his talk on finding out what really makes you tick was one of the most confidently delivered of the week and - in stark contrast to the previous event - was a bit of a rally cry to creatives to make a difference in the world.

Matt told us how he embarked on the career that he thought he wanted - laptops, beaches and far-flung places - but when he got there it left him feeling empty inside. He shared the methodology that helped him understand how to fix it and now he runs courses to help others get there too.

Check him out over at; creative-life.co.uk.

Tuesday morning: Closing the North's Digital Skills Gap.

A self-explanatory title for another of those panel discussions, this was a super interesting event held at the offices of DAC: Beachcroft.

They'd commissioned IPPR North to produce a report on the problem and identify some possible solutions from other schemes running across the world.

Grace Blakely (from IPPR North) delivered the report's finding, sitting alongside Michael Peeters (DAC: Beachcroft) but for me, the most interesting contribution came from Carol Whitworth of Manchester College. They've developed a partnership with Amaze to deliver industry-focused digital courses and it seems to be working. It sounds like properly ground-breaking stuff and a complete no-brainer if we're looking at how to get learning and industry better connected.

Tuesday afternoon: Goal's Digital Review of Football

Owned by Perform Group, Goal.com is the most shared website in the world! They've reporters on every contintent, but their head office is here in Leeds. How cool is that??

Sam and Rob dazzled us with some extraordinary stats and we learnt loads about what does and doesn't drive traffic - Messi and Ronaldo for sure. Man City and Guardiola, not so much - much to their annoyance, apparently.

Check out Goal's short film on Ronaldo here.

Tuesday evening: Bolser's UX Panel/Creative Engagement in Mobile.

Another panel event that in truth turned into a series of presentations. Presenters from NHS Digital, EE, Perform Group and Bolser talked to us about the importance of being 'mobile first' and the unseen challenges involved in getting projects over the line. Oh, and we learnt a bit on the benefit of paying more attention to release notes - interesting stuff.

Wednesday evening: Glug: The Tech Off!

This night was bonkers. Hosted by 'The Beyonce of Tech' - The Tech Off is sort of rap battle for nerds where, on this occasion, creatives faced off against coders. Six contestants (??) had five minutes a piece to extol the virtues of their own profession and trash talk the shortcomings of their rival's.

The crowd was worked up into a frenzy by 'Beyonce' and it was great seeing two or three of the presenters really throwing themselves into it. Those that didn't, bore the brunt of the baying mob!

The event, which started down in Shoreditch (of course it did), has showcased at SXSW in Austin, TX and DMX in Dublin so it's awesome to see it land in Leeds - despite the North vs South trash talk nearly backfiring on the host at the start of the night!

This might well be a marmite event for some but I think we need to be getting more of this into the city - stuff that already exists and has a following further and wider than the borders of Yorkshire. Hat's off the guys at Glug for bringing it up here.

Thursday day: Tech North's Digital Jobs Action Summit.

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I spent all day over at Canal Mills for this one - nursing quite a sore head from the night before - it was well worth it though!

The morning was a barrage of talks and (more) panel discussions on why there's a talent shortage, what the barriers to entry are, building the right culture and what the consequences of not solving the problem are. It was a heavy morning but it served to set up an afternoon all about action through workshops and learning about a whole bunch of initiatives that are already in place to help move things forward.

Neil Barnby told us about CODE:4000 - a pilot scheme to help train prisoners coding. Dan Sofer talked about Founders and Coders - an amazing *free* school for aspiring developers in London and just opening in Nazareth, Isreal. Alexa Shoen absolutely killed it when she told us about #ENTRYLEVELBOSS - her groundbreaking career development program. Not to mention North Coders, Geek Talent and Solution Path. It sure was a busy day!

For me, the most interesting talk of them all came from, Lauren Anderson - over from NYC to tell us about the New York City Tech Pipeline. Now there's an example of how an industry and government can come together to solve a problem! And again, wonderful to see someone from outside the region coming along to broaden our horizons. It's also another sign post to say how far this festival is starting to reach. Great stuff.

Thursday evening: The Work/Life Talkshow.

Probably my favourite event of the whole week. Laid back, candid conversations with three really successful business people about what makes them tick - both in and out of the office.

Hosted by the incredibly likeable Dan Akers of LightStart over at the ace Duke Studios, Craig Burton, Achille Traore and Sarah Khan-Bashir answered the questions and we got to hear a bit about what gets them out bed in the morning and how they try to get their work/life balance right.

Keep your eye on the LightStart events page to see if there are any more in the pipeline. I'm definitely up for another one and I might even make it along to one of their Digital Coffee Mornings too.

Thursday evening: Code in the Dark.

I was flagging by now but just time for another trip up to Belgrave Music Hall (the 2nd night running) for Code in the Dark - an event hosted by Epiphany Search.

25 developers are split into five heats of five with the winner of each making it through to the final. Their task, to build the homepage of a famous site, from scratch, in 15 minutes, live in front of a couple of hundred people - all with a banging DJ ramping up the atmosphere and laser beam lighting dancing across the walls! It was a cracking night and a boat load more fun than I was expecting!

Big kudos to the eventual winner - Simon Williams of Engage Interactive.

Friday afternoon: Leeds Digital Job Fair 3.0

Now in third outing, Amy De Balsi (of Herd Careers) has done an amazing job of setting this careers fair up.

All of the city's major employer's are there - SKYBet, ASDA, Morrisons, NHS Digital, Jet2 ...the list goes on - making it a must-see event for anyone looking at breaking in or advancing their career in digital/tech.

Friday afternoon: Moving Content

A series of talks delivered by Creative Race on the power of moving image/animation.

Awe inspiring animation is all well and good but you make it even more powerful when you marry it with a powerful idea and compelling storytelling.

The line of the session; "In design, less is more. In animation, more is more!"

Friday evening: CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap

A running theme of the week - at least the events I attended - was the skills/talent gap and the gap is even more acute when it comes to females entering the tech space. That was the theme of this independent documentary shot in Silicon Valley.

Hosted at SKYBet's mega fancy new offices in Wellington Place, we heard from (another) panel that featured Zoe Hebblethwaite of SKYBet and Annie Moss-Quate from She Does Digital before settling down to watch the film.

The film was loaded with female icons working for the likes of Pixar, Pinterest, Strava and GitHub but they're still vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts.

By this stage of the week, I was on my last legs but I'm so pleased I stuck around for this. As a 30-something-year-old white male, it's easy to overlook the challenges women and minorities face. I know it's there but the solution isn't obvious and it's difficult to know how/where to help.

With films like this and movements like, She does Digital, it feels like now more than ever, there's an appetite to get things done.

 

So a long but altogether cracking week of events. I don't say that lightly either. it's been one hell of a slog getting the festival to where it is now with more than a couple of false dawns along the way so I was both surprised and delighted to see it making a mark this year.

Well played to the chaps behind it; Stuart Clarke and Tim Brazier and let's hope it becomes a permanent fixture in the diary for years to come - there's no doubt there's plenty for the city to be shouting about!