This one goes out with love to all you social media, job hopping, circus freaks. You are my people.
There’s got to be a joke in here somewhere: This afternoon I listened to a Russian talk about employee management. But seriously, Boris Groysberg is an amazing teacher and very funny. Boris spoke to our HBS class about ‘A New Breed of Employees’. Boris actually wrote a book that I’m very interested to read and I can honestly say I’ve never said that about an HR book. Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance.
Why is this book so interesting to me? Well because it addresses one of the great debates of star talent, is it nature or nurture. Basically are star employees born or made? Boris’ research looks at employees as they move from one company to another and do they retain their “star power” or not. Again you may ask, why is this of so much interest to me?
The Hunt For The Elusive Social Media Strategist
With very, very, very few exceptions, I, and every one of my friends working as social media strategists, have changed jobs *at least* once or twice in the last 5 years. Some as many as 4 or <cough> 5 <cough> times.
Why have we changed jobs so many times? Those of us doing this for the last 5 years got an early start at developing a critical skill set that few people had and every major company all of a sudden needed very, very badly. This placed us in the *star* category and has lead to a ridiculous number of job offers, made even more ridiculous when you consider they came during the worst job market we’ve seen in our adult lives. We’ve also jumped around a lot because we’re super ADHD and often come from non-traditional background. Basically we’re about as stable as circus freaks.
While most of us have really good reasons behind our job changes (honest we do) I worry about those that make a habit out of jumping around too much. I for one feel that I’ve finally found a place where I fit and have no plans of leaving. I also know several of my social media job hopping friends feel the same. But I’d be lying if I could say without a doubt that I’ll be working at the same company for the rest of my life. That is just such a foreign thought to me. And I’m not alone in my perception of reality.
Here’s what Boris’ research showed:
Star employees that move to other companies see an immediate performance drop in the first year, slowly building back up over the next 3 years but rarely ever return to their previous levels of performance.
The two questions you have are ‘Why?‘ and ‘What about those exceptions (because I’m sure I’m exceptional)?‘ I’ll do my best to accurately answer those questions from my notes on Boris’ class without having read his book.
Are You A Team Player or A Lone Wolf?
You need to determine if you have Portable Human Capital or Non-Portable Human Capital. Is your success largely because of the team environment, Non-Portable Human Capital, or because you are a true lone wolf, Portable Human Capital? (Be sure you’re honest with your response.) If you have a strong team around you then you need to be very careful the kind of environment you jump to.
People that move with their teams are far more likely to succeed than those that move individually. This is why you see new CEO’s replace all of the key management with their own people.
Moving Up The Ladder?
If you’re moving to a weaker or smaller company from a stronger one then you will likely fail. This is exemplified by the smaller competitor stealing one of their bigger rival’s star players. But if you are moving from a weaker position to a stronger one then you will likely succeed. If you’re making a lateral move you can eventually achieve your previous level of performance but it will likely take you 2-3 years to get there.
Can My Klout Score Predict Success?
Here’s some good news for those of us in social media. Star performers always have wider and deeper personal networks than there non-star counterparts. This is just a universal fact. And those with the widest and deepest networks not internal to their organization are much more likely to succeed than those who have more of their personal network inside their organization. And no, the number of followers you have on Twitter does not constitute a wide and deep network.
I Need To Get Me One Of Those Social Media Guru’s
Now if you are thinking you need to hire a social media star for your organization here’s some facts to consider.
- 66% of stars leave within 5 years. If that resume looks a little too active, it’s a good indicator they’ll leave again. Remember – circus people.
- Building your own internal expertise and strong teams is cheaper, more effective long term and creates a happier team dynamic than hiring stars.
- This is especially dangerous when hiring stars into managerial positions. They have a harder time integrating with those who they jumped over in line, which stretches out that 2-3 years of recovery time to more like 4 or 5, assuming they ever get there.
- Those that got passed over for the promotion will likely leave.
- And when the star employee leaves this will likely create a whole new wave of turnovers. Basically it can be a mess.
But if you do legitimately need to hire from outside because of high growth (which is something I’m intimately familiar with) here’s what you can do to help your new stars succeed. Or if you’re a star looking to move (for good reasons not just because you got bored) here’s what you should look for.
- Look for stars from smaller companies who just need a bigger platform to succeed from. Stars, look for bigger platforms to go to not smaller ones. I will note the one big exception here is doing a startup. True startups seems to be somewhat immune to this.
- Make sure you provide a friendly team landing. Stars, make sure you’re moving to a strong team environment. Most companies do a horrible, I mean nonexistent, job of integrating their new hires. #FAIL
- If you need someone to build something for you (like a social media center of excellence or department) from scratch, make sure they have experience building not just working in one. Hiring someone to recreate the environment they had is different than working in it. Instead look for someone who’s built what you want.
In my case I kept moving to stronger platforms and stronger teams. It’s why I never saw a performance drop but instead saw a performance boost with each move. I also have a larger than average, diverse network. Those of you that are thinking about moving, *especially* those of you under 30 that are getting anxious for your chance in the limelight, think long and hard about a move. A move may provide an immediate boost in your salary but over 2-3 years you’re usually not any further ahead than you were when you started. But then again I’d be a hypocrite if I said sometimes it’s not the absolute best thing to move. Just be smart about it. The grass is rarely greener on the other side.
To all of my many, many friends working in this space (even those of you working at competitors) I truly hope you’re happy where you are and plan on staying for a while. Build something awesome and shine like the star you are. And if you’re not happy, let me know I’ve got a great team environment over here for you.
Long Live The Social Media Circus Freaks! \o/