Opinion: Hiring talent? Look beyond the job description
The great irony of COVID-19 is that while it has squeezed many agencies via shrinking client budgets, it’s also increased competition for talent. There are winners in this pandemic, and they are chasing your top employees. E-commerce startups are booming. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, fueled by $1.7 trillion in market cap growth this year, are hiring. And LinkedIn reports 10 of the 15 fastest-growing jobs in the United States are tied to digital media, data or analytics. The best workers that agencies need to compete are most likely to walk out the door.
What’s the solution? Don’t focus solely on creative, digital or data acumen. Test recruits for being “O-shaped people”—those who contribute to the entire circle around them. Agencies will never win by focusing solely on specialized skills. You need to get people who are more likely to stick with your organization, with a spirit of one for all, not all for one.
“O” stands for organizational awareness, a variation of the situational awareness espoused by military leaders since Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War.” It’s an evolution beyond what HR managers have talked about for years—first “I-shaped” skill specialists, then “T-shaped” employees with cross-functional talent.
O-shaped people have skills, yes, but they also know how to monitor and influence outside their positions. This type of situational awareness was codified by fighter pilots of World War I, who had to instantly take in the buzzing dogfighters around them, and today is deployed in high-stress environments including air-traffic control towers, emergency rooms and nuclear power plants. These are arenas of shifting dynamics, where missing one thing on the periphery dooms you to failure. Sound familiar?
This is a vital aptitude, because the expanded “organizations” that agencies operate in are becoming ever-more fragmented. Clients are standing up organizations with multiple agencies, vendors, tech platforms and other relationships. This marketing ecosystem requires all the original “I-shaped” skills of strategy, creative, media and PR, but now with the added “T” complexity of digital, analytics and technology. In this brave new world, everyone needs to be a data scientist. The binary dance of one- client-to-one-agency has become a thing of the past.
“O-shaped” means talent with depth, breadth and wide organizational influence. Here are examples where organizational awareness and finding connection on the periphery can lead to better thinking.
Media that informs message
Some of the most notable campaigns of the past decade have crossed the lines between media placement and creative ideation. Geico’s unskippable ads, in which video froze to break through on YouTube. Neutrogena’s “perfect pair” campaign, which connected shopper data to mass-customized banner ads. Somewhere, a media planner or creative strategist crossed organizational lines to propose, what if we did this over there?
Predictive models with new inputs
We’ve seen the best campaign forecasts when data scientists find novel solutions outside the industry. Imagine the analyst who unearths an epidemiology model for coronavirus propagation and uses it to predict the likelihood of a campaign going viral.
Dueling agencies that share ideas
Often multiple partners on an account could compete with each other. Imagine a search agency and media agency, employed by the same client, who had regular calls to share concepts for targeting, messaging, offers, and web structure. The account “leads” for both, instead of fighting for new business, collaborate for better outcomes.
How do you attract O-shaped talent?
Don’t narrowcast your search
An employee who is skilled in messaging and digital media and data analytics and client management and key industry expertise is a five-headed unicorn. Be open to employees with related knowledge who may not fit exactly into your job posting.
Consider their prior longevity
Because O-shaped people are collaborative and engaged, they tend to stay employed longer for one employer. Seeking loyalty is at odds with the sexy flash of a resume in which a rising star has worked at 12 agencies in the past 15 years.
Seek examples of their O-ness
Does the candidate belong to associations? Write a blog? Share ideas on Twitter? Look for examples of connecting outside their core function.
Become an “O” organization
Draw them by becoming an “O” organization. The most important thing you can do is create an agency that connects expansively—with initiatives to give back, publishing, speaking, active participation in the broader world of knowledge.
Being O-shaped is a selfless mindset, not just an operating skill. And it’s empowering: Employees want to do more than one thing, contribute to other arenas, learn in new ways.
To screen O-shaped people, we often ask one question in interviews: “Can you tell us about a time you helped someone?” Selfish people will struggle. Collaborators will quickly smile and share a story. Those are the ones you want on your team.