Baby Steps Are For Infants, Not HR Organizations

It’s been almost 4 years since I fully embraced social media, and 3 years since I started blogging. One of the things I loved about social media from the start was the ability to hook up with a lot of really smart people and hear their thoughts and ideas about business.

One of the recurring themes that I have heard repeatedly during this social media journey is that innovation and movement, whether personal or professional,  requires taking risks and willingness to fail. People in the social media business space are fond of quoting other smart people like Wayne Gretzky (“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”), Frederick Wilcox (“Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”), or Jim McMahon (“Yes, risk-taking is inherently failure prone. Otherwise it would be called ‘sure-thing taking.’ “)

So why do we make exceptions when it comes to HR and the adoption of social media? I have been told many times that the adoption of social media requires baby steps, and that I am wrong to suggest that we push our associations and HR business units harder to adopt effective social strategies.

Bullshit.

Real change and innovation in companies, organizations, and associations doesn’t come from acting like a baby who does not have the physical or mental ability to leap. It comes from leaders who are not afraid to leap when it is necessary, knowing that failure is possible but that any failure will bring even more opportunities to learn and change.

Today, Curtis Midkiff, Director of Social Engagement for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), announced that SHRM was a finalist for a 2012 Social Media Leadership Award.  SHRM isn’t a finalist for this award because Curtis took baby-steps to introduce social networking in tiny increments – he took giant leaps since taking his job with SHRM in 2010. Yes, he had some help from volunteers, as he acknowledges in this Facebook post,  but the vision and execution – and risk – was his. From 5 bloggers at the annual conference in 2010, he moved to a massive social media team in 2012, with 100 bloggers, a dedicated space where attendees could get social media training, knowledge, and networking, and a special website specifically for social media news, blogs, and Twitter  before, during, and after the conference.

Those were the decisive moves of a leader, not the tottering steps of an infant who is going to fall down many times, while we all smile and take pictures.

HR and its related organizations should be following this type of leadership, and not making claims that baby steps are a more appropriate strategy.

 

Most Job Descriptions Suck

An actual job description template found on the web

 

Last month a young woman named Cathryn Sloane posted a blog in the NextGen Journal titled “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25”. In this piece the author argued that because the youngest adults grew up with social media, it became part of their fabric in a way no other group could claim, which entitled that group to suspend more mundane requirements like work experience in order to be successful in that particular job.

As you might suspect, there was a huge backlash of comments about the arrogance, absurdity and ageism of the premise that only people under 25 could possibly be effective social media managers. The outcry was so great that the very next day the founder of NextGen Journal posted his own response, which continued to draw negative comments (“just as entitled as the original post”).  Finally, NextGen posted a rebuttal from an outsider that somewhat summarized why the oldsters were so upset with both posts.

But what all of these posts and counter-posts and comments seemed to miss was that Cathryn Sloane had a valid point. Yes, her youth, inexperience and poor communication skills made her miss that point entirely – but so, it seems, did all of the other writers. This is the point:

Job descriptions and requirements for social media managers suck.

HR writes countless job descriptions based on outdated templates that keep getting used over and over again, despite the fact that those templates are not based on any proven correlation between the stated requirement and the actual skills needed. Instead, you see advertisements that require things like this, an actual social media job posting on LinkedIn:

  • BS/BA: Marketing, Advertising, Communications
  • 3-5+ years Social Media experience
  • 3+ years Ad Agency Experience
  • Proficient in social media monitoring and analyitcal software/resources

Who cares if you have a BA in advertising? Your advertising degree could be 20 years old and irrelevant. Ad agency experience? What for? There are tons and tons of people on the net having extraordinary conversations via social media that have never set foot inside of an ad agency.  Instead, HR pros should create job requirements that really address what people need in order to be successful community managers:

  • Exceptional communication skills
  • A dynamic personality
  • Large amounts of creativity
  • Empathy, reason, intelligence

These may vary a bit from job to job or by brand, but the point is the same: successful social media management has a lot to do with personality and intelligent expression, and almost nothing to do with degrees and professional experience. And it certainly has nothing to do with age – a point missed entirely by poor Ms Sloane.

Job posts and ads for social media managers are not the only ones that suck, though.  Tom Brokaw, in his keynote closing address at the recent  massive Society for Human Resources Management conference (#SHRM12), told a story about a military captain returning from 12 years in Afghanistan. He is told by an HR pro that he has “no experience”. He replies to that criticism by listing all of the things he did in Afghanistan that were certainly key competencies for many jobs: he rooted out bad guys, he helped locals create better systems, he learned to live off the land and available resources, and he did it with minimal loss.

He got the job, but the sad truth is that in most HR departments that military captain would not have even landed an interview, because a ridiculous job description with boilerplate language that said nothing about real world skills and competencies would have kept him out the door. Job descriptions or posts would have asked for a college degree, with possible project management certification, a number of years at a Fortune 500 company, and all kinds of statistical proof of his claimed accomplishments.

And that really sucks.