HR managers’ views of new college grad hires: Curmudgeonly … or canaries in the coal mine?

Lack of professionalism among new hiresAs those of us in the world of business begin to add years (or decades) to our tenure, it becomes easier than ever to look at the younger crop of workers coming onstream and see traits that don’t align with our worldview about what is acceptable, “SFW” behavior.

Perhaps we’re too set in our ways. Maybe we’re not being flexible enough or making a sufficient effort to keep an open mind about proper office professionalism and etiquette.

But maybe we’re not offbase after all:  A new survey of HR professionals suggests that others have also noticed — and they’re not very forgiving, either.

In fact, this survey of ~400 human resources managers, which was conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College, found that opinions of recent college graduates in the workforce have grown more negative over the past five years.  (The survey is conducted annually.)

When asked about their experiences in recruiting and hiring recent college graduates, these HR managers were pretty unsparing in their criticism. Here are some of the opinions the survey uncovered:

  • More than one-third of HR respondents felt that the level of professionalism among new college-educated employees has worsened over the past five years.
  • Nearly half believe that the work ethic of new employees is worse today than before.
  • More than half of the respondents feel that new workers come into the workforce with an unrealistic air of entitlement.

What are some of the specific areas where HR managers see new hires failing to measure up? These were the most prevalent mentions in the York survey:

  • Appropriate appearance and dress
  • Punctuality and workplace attendance
  • Attentiveness
  • Staying on-task through to completion of assignments
  • Honesty

And that’s not all.

The human resources professionals in this survey reported that younger employees “appear arrogant” during the hiring process and once they come on the job.

Moreover, these HR professionals contend that new employees aren’t taking proper cues from older, more established workers in the office, but instead from their peers and friends.

A manifestation of this is the predilection to text co-workers rather than to communicate via e-mail messages, or through personal conversations and interfaces.

The basic problem with the attitudes of new company hires was pointed out by Deborah Ricker, director of the Center for Professional Excellence: “Acceptable behavior among peers is not necessarily acceptable among coworkers and superiors.”

Amen to that.

[Click here if you’re interested in downloading a full summary of the 2013 Professionalism in the Workplace survey results.]

Most of us can probably think of one or two examples of employees who personify many of the issues brought up by the HR managers in the York survey.

One example that comes to my mind from our own office’s experience was a young worker who decided she needed to take short naps during her lunch periods.

Nothing really wrong with that, except … she did so by lying down on the floor next to her desk — which was directly behind another worker’s cubicle. Imagine trying to do your work while having someone snoozing (snoring) at your feet!

If you have similar anecdotes about some of the younger hires in your office, feel free to leave a comment. It’ll be good for a chuckle or two – even if there’s an underlying context that’s way sober.

Volunteerism: Is it a Mormon and Midwestern Thing?

Volunteerism in AmericaDuring my adult life I’ve lived in all four regions of the United States. Each of them has its distinct positive aspects (along with a few not-so-positive ones).

Of course, these differences are part of what makes living in America so interesting.

One regional difference I’ve noticed is a greater predilection for volunteerism among people who live in the Midwest and Western regions. 

That anecdotal observation on my part has now been confirmed by the results of a consumer survey conducted in late 2012 by New York-based Scarborough Research.

In broad terms, Scarborough found that approximately 27% of American adults reported having participated in some form of volunteer activities over the previous year.

That percentage breaks down further by demographic age clusters as follows:

  • All Adults: ~27% have volunteered during the past year
  • Baby Boomers (age 45-64): ~34%
  • Gen Xers (age 30-44): ~27%
  • Millennials (age 18-29): ~20%
  • Silent Generation (age 65+): ~18%

Looking more closely at the 27% of respondents who volunteers, the Scarborough research revealed that, while volunteerism is found throughout the United States, certain urban markets have a distinctly larger proportion of their population so involved.

And when you look at the list – and Scarborough studied more than 85 local markets – you’re hard-pressed to find any of them located east of the Mississippi River. Instead, the list is completely skewed towards the Midwest and West:

  • Salt Lake City, UT: ~42% of adults have volunteered during the past 12 months
  • Des Moines, IA: ~34%
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN: ~34%
  • Portland, OR: ~34%
  • Grand Rapids, MI: ~33%
  • San Francisco, CA: ~33%
  • Seattle, WA: ~33%
  • Green Bay, WI: ~32%

Which urban markets are at the bottom of Scarborough’s list? All of them are located in coastal states:

  • Ft. Myers, FL: ~22% of adults have volunteered
  • Las Vegas, NV: ~22%
  • New Orleans, LA: ~22%
  • Bakersfield, CA: ~21%
  • El Paso, TX: ~21%
  • Harlington, TX: ~20%
  • Miami, FL: ~20%
  • Providence, RI: ~20%

Scarborough also found that those who volunteer their time tend to be more generous with their financial support:

  • They are ~84% more likely to have contributed to an arts or cultural organization within the past year
  • ~61% more likely to contribute to an environmental organization
  • ~60% more likely to financially support a social care, welfare or political organization
  • ~57% more likely to have contributed to a religious organization

More details on the Scarborough Research findings, including stats for more than 85 local markets, can be found here.

The (Mostly) Myth of the Multi-Generational Family Business

Multi-generational family businessesThe idea of the family enterprise is practically an article of faith when it comes to American business.

But how much of a reality is it? And do family businesses generally survive from one generation to the next?

To begin with, let’s make clear that there are many family-owned businesses in the United States.  In fact, consulting organization Family Enterprise USA estimates the figure at around 5.5 million entities.

But the average life span of a family business is fewer than 25 years, meaning that only a distinct minority of them remain in the family over time.

The stats are stark. Here’s how they break down by generations:

  • Business passed to the 2nd generation: ~40% of family owned entities
  • Business passed to the 3rd generation: ~13%
  • Business passed to the 4th generation: ~3%

When asked for their opinion, about half of the owners of family businesses stated that they would like to see the business stay in the family when the next generation comes along.

And for larger family businesses (those that employ 20 or more workers), nearly three-fourths would like this to happen.

But wishes and expectations aren’t the same … because only ~23% of these same respondents actually think that a transition to the next generation of family members is “likely” to happen.

At my company, we have some clients – perhaps 15% of our customer base — that are into their 2nd or 3rd generation as family-owned entities. But in my view, it’s highly doubtful that the next generation of family members will end up in charge at most of them.

Fourteen billion web pages … but you can get from any one to any other in 19 clicks or less.

Opte Project Web Network Map
A visualization of the ~14 billion pages that make up the network of cyberspace. Red lines represent links between web pages in Asia … blue lines for North America … yellow for Latin America … green for Europe, Africa and the Middle East … white for unknown IP addresses.  (Opte Project)

There are an estimated 14 billion+ web pages in existence. But even with this massive number, you can navigate from any single one of those pages to any other in 19 clicks or less.

That’s the finding of Albert-László Barabási, a Hungarian-Romanian physicist and network theorist. He’s constructed a simulated model of the web, and in doing so discovered that of the ~1 trillion web documents in existence (this figure includes every image or other file hosted on every one of the ~14 billion web pages), most are poorly connected.

In other words, they’re linked to just a few other pages or documents.

But the web also has a smallish number of pages associated with search engines, indexes and aggregators that are highly connected and can move from one area of cyberspace to another.

It is these “super-potent” nodes that allow people to navigate from most areas to most others relatively easily.

Physicist Albert-László Barabási
Albert-László Barabási, physicist and network theorist.

Hence Barabási’s “19 clicks or fewer” finding.

He posits that the web mirrors fundamental human experience: the impulse for people to tend to cluster into communities (both real and virtual).

Thus, the pages that make up the web aren’t linked randomly. They’re part of an interconnected organizational structure that includes country, region, subject/topic area and so forth.

That interconnectivity is illustrated nicely in the Opte Project’s “map” of cyberspace. This endeavor, spearheaded by Internet entrepreneur Barrett Lyon, gives us intriguing visualizations of the web and how it is interconnected.

The resulting picture (see above) is impressive, visually arresting … and even a bit scary.

United States … or United Nations? Author Colin Woodard reminds us that “who we are now” is “where we were when.”

"American Nations," a book by Colin Woodard.
In his book “American Nations,” Colin Woodard divides the continent into 11 distinct territories.

It’s tempting to think about the United States as a pretty monolithic country and culture. Certainly, if you listen to the views of Continental Europeans or people from the Middle East, it seems that’s how many around the world view us.

But the reality is far more complex. Speaking as someone who has lived in all four major regions of the U.S. — the Northeast, Midwest, South and West — I’ve experienced first-hand a variety of different regional “quirks.”

And now we have an interesting book that really delves into the phenomenon of America’s distinct regions. In his book American Nations, published in 2011 and now available in paperback, journalist and author Colin Woodard takes us on an interesting regional tour of the continent.

Woodard counts no fewer than eleven “nations within a nation.” And as he defines them, they’re actually spread throughout the United States, Canada and Northern Mexico.

What exactly are these “nations within a nation” and how did they come to be?  They’re the result of early settlers, later migration patterns, and deep-seated cultural affinities that, while somewhat mitigated in recent years, are still surprisingly resilient even after 150 or 200 years.

The one “nation” on Woodard’s map that may characterize what many people think of as “America” is one he calls “Yankeedom.”

“Yankeedom nation” stretches from New England and Upstate New York to the Midwest, encompassing Northern Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

According to Woodard, this region’s character and social culture stem from the utopian communities founded by Puritans and the later immigrants from Scandinavia. In “Yankeedom nation,” intellectual achievement is valued along with an abiding belief in public institutions’ ability to improve and even perfect society.

Understanding these attributes makes it easier to see how the Grange Movement, Robert LaFollette’s Progressive Party and even RomneyCare came into being here rather than in some other part of the United States.

The polar opposite of Yankeedom may well be “Greater Appalachia nation,” a region on Woodard’s map that stretches from Southwestern Pennsylvania west and south to encompass nearly the entire states of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee along with vast swatches of contiguous states.

Also referred to as “The Borderlands,” this “nation” also includes areas we don’t usually associate with Appalachia such as the Ozarks, Oklahoma, Central Texas and even a bit of Eastern New Mexico.

What ties this sprawling “nation” together? The eastern portions of the region were settled not by English planters, merchants or Puritans, but by Scots-Irish immigrants who brought with them a fighting spirit along with a sense of fierce independence and suspicion of central governments.

They and their descendents later migrated to the western regions, bringing their cultural predilections with them. Think of John McCain’s fighting spirit – whose ancestors settled in Mississippi from further east – and you have a flavor of the abiding characteristics of this region.

The great observer of American politics, Michael Barone, has written about Greater Appalachia nation’s antipathy to the social and governmental policies of the current administration in Washington, DC. He notes that even as President Obama has won the White House twice with relative ease, he’s actually fared worse with voters in the Borderlands region when compared to the unsuccessful efforts of John Kerry and Al Gore, losing every county in the states of West Virginia, Arkansas and Oklahoma and carrying precious few anywhere else.

American Nations, by Colin Woodard.Woodard’s book delves into a great deal of rich regional history in order to reveal to us how these and the other “nations” came to be. It’s a fascinating volume that will surely spark some of your own thoughts and perceptions of “America” – in whole and in part.

If you have some personal observations or experiences that illustrate the regional differences in the country, please share them in the comment section below.  As for myself, I’m a person who was born in the “Tidewater nation” and who has relatives in the “Deep South nation.” When attending high school in the Twin Cities (smack in the heart of “Yankeedom nation”), I found it interesting how clueless my otherwise intelligent, knowledgeable and well-traveled schoolmates were about anything to do with the Deep South.

In particular, Mississippi and Alabama were always being mixed up in their minds.

And of the ~50 people who graduated from my high school class, consider these stats: While easily three-fourths of our grads chose to attend college or university out of state … nearly 90% of the class stayed in Woodard’s “Yankeedom nation.”

A coincidence? I think not.

[By the way, I was one of the ~10% who elected to attend college in another “nation,” a decision I never regretted.]

Charting e-mail read rates. (Correction: non-read rates.)

E-Mail Read Rates (Open Rates), Return Path, 4th Quarter 2012One of the great things about e-mail marketing is the ability to track nearly everything about its success (or lack thereof).

A recent Return Path Intelligence Report on e-mail statistics covering the 4th Quarter of 2012 is a case in point. Return Path conducts these studies by monitoring data from thousands of e-mail campaigns that utilize its delivery platforms.

Specifically, the  study tracks the inbox, blocking and filtering rates for more than 400,000 campaigns that use Return Path’s Monitor and Email Client Monitor suites, along with panel data from the company’s Inbox Insight program.

For the 4th study, Return Path reviewed nearly 250 ISPs in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

And what does its most recent study find? Fewer than one in five e-mails (17%) were opened. And that rate is slightly lower than what was recorded in the 2011 4th Quarter study.

However, some business sectors performed substantially better than the average:

  • Finance sector: ~28% open (read) rate
  • Business sector: ~24%
  • Real estate sector: ~20%

Shopping e-mails fared less well, with a read rate of ~15% (down from ~17% the previous year).

E-mail open rates in the education (~11%) and entertainment (~10%) fields were lower still.

And the worst sectors? News sector e-mails had an average open rate of only ~8%, while social networking e-mails fared even worse at ~6%.

Moreover, both of these bouncing-in-the-basement sectors experienced very significant drop-offs from the previous year, underscoring how they continue to struggle in their efforts to be interesting and relevant to readers.

For those who wish to view additional results and analysis, the Return Path report is available here.  It’s a free download.

Delaware’s unclaimed property gambit: Small state … Big bucks.

The state of Delaware is serious about collecting unclaimed property at corporations.The state of Delaware has a reputation for being very friendly to corporations. And that’s not just talk, because there are more corporations registered in Delaware than in any other state.

In fact, more than half of all publicly listed U.S. companies have chosen to incorporate in Delaware.

But it turns out that there’s another side to the coin: This “business friendly” state is also ruthless about going after the unclaimed property that these corporations possess.

Companies that are incorporated in Delaware are obligated to turn over all unclaimed monetary property to the state. And the state is relentless in pursuing those funds.

For unclaimed dividends and securities, the Delaware law kicks in after three years. For other unclaimed property such as gift certificate balances and life insurance benefits, the state claims possession after five years.

There’s criticism, of course. Many contend that Delaware is unduly onerous in its unclaimed property dictates when compared to other states.

Chances are, such criticism falls on deaf ears. Why? I like what Chris Hopkins, a lawyer with Crowe Horwath LLP, says about the situation: “Unclaimed property is crack for the state of Delaware,” he contends.

And how much is the unclaimed property worth? Estimates are that Delaware has collected more than $1.2 billion in property, interest and penalties in just the past three years. The state uses the proceeds it collects to conduct state business – just as it would using state income tax revenues.

And woe to any company that neglects to keep proper tabs on its unclaimed property, because Delaware looks back more than 30 years when it conducts audits.

How many companies have robust records going back that far?

No records? No problem! The state will cheerfully estimate the amount your company owes – along with all of the accrued interest and penalties, of course. And they’ll accept your payment with a smile.

But there’s been enough grumbling about the record-keeping requirements that the state has grudgingly initiated a “temporary voluntary disclosure program,” wherein companies can make a good faith effort to identify unclaimed property dating back to “only” 1996.

If companies can show that they aren’t hiding any problems, the state will forego further auditing back into prior years.

Delaware Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock stated this about the new voluntary program: “There was a recognition that we had to come up with a better system to meet the ultimate goal, which is to have companies in compliance.”

So which goal is it?  Companies in compliance? … Or a cool billion in added revenues for the state’s coffers?

You know the answer.

The corporate resource commitment to social media: Plenty of talk … but how much action?

Social media staffing prospects for 2013 are no better than they were in 2012.With social media activity seemingly bursting at the seams, it’s also risen near the top of many marketing departments’ punch lists of tactics to reach, engage with and influence their customers and prospects.

But when it comes to putting serious resources behind that effort, how much of a commitment is really there?

A recent Ragan Communications/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey suggests that the commitment to social media may be a lot of “talk” … and a lot less “walk.”

The November 2012 survey of ~2,700 social media professionals found that two-thirds of the respondents perform their social media tasks above and beyond their regular marketing duties:

  • Social media tasks are on top of current responsibilities: ~65% of respondents
  • Have established a team for social media activities: ~27%
  • Use an in-house team along with an outside social media agency or planner: ~5%
  • Outsource all social media efforts: ~3%

For the distinct minority of companies that have seen fit to devote some degree of dedicated personnel to their social media program, nearly 85% of them have created teams of three people or fewer … and in more than 40% of the cases, it’s just a single individual instead of a team.

What departments within companies are involved in social media activities?  No surprise here:  It’s the usual suspects (marketing and public relations) with a variety of other departments having their toe in the water as well:

  • Marketing: ~70% of departments are involved in social media activities
  • Public relations: ~69%
  • Corporate communications: ~49%
  • Advertising: ~26%
  • Customer service: ~19%
  • Information technology: ~17%
  • Legal personnel: ~14%

As to whether we’re on the cusp of something much bigger in terms of resourcing social media activities, this isn’t evident much at all from the future plans of the businesses surveyed by Ragan.

Let’s begin with budgets. Excluding salaries and benefits, half of the companies surveyed have social media budgets of $10,000 or less – and one-quarter have essentially no dollars at all earmarked for social media:

  • Annual social media budget $1,000 or less: ~23% of respondents
  • $1,000 to $5,000: ~14%
  • $5,000 to $10,000: ~13%
  • $10,000 – $50,000: ~22%
  • $50,000+: ~26%

When asked whether companies had expanded their social media personnel assignments during 2012, fewer than one-third of the respondents answered affirmatively.

… And the trend doesn’t look much different for 2013, with more than three-fourths of the respondents reporting that there aren’t any plans to hire additional social media practitioners this year.

What about interns, that fallback position for cheap and easy labor?

Fewer than one-fourth of the respondents reported that interns are employed by their companies for social media tasks. Most others believe that using typically inexperienced interns for the potentially sensitive customer engagement aspects of social media is a “non-starter,” as they consider those sensitivities to be a disqualifying factor.

And in the cases where interns do help out in social media efforts, the vast majority of their activity is confined to Facebook and Twitter, as compared to LinkedIn, blogging,creating online “thought leadership” articles and the like.

How satisfied are companies with how they’re doing in the social media realm? According to this study, there’s rampant dissatisfaction with the degree to which companies feel able to measure the impact of social media on their sales and their businesses.

The tracking mechanisms put in place by companies range the gamut, but it’s not clear how convinced practitioners are that the information is accurate or actionable.

  • Track interaction and engagement (e.g., followers, fans, likes): ~86% of respondents
  • Track web traffic: ~74%
  • Track brand reputation: ~58%
  • Track customer service and customer satisfaction: ~41%
  • Track new lead generation: ~40%
  • Track new sales revenues: ~31%

The vast bulk of tracking activity happens using in-house mechanisms or free measurement tools (~59% use those), although the paid measurement tools offered by HootSuite and Radian6 do have their share of users.

The takeaway from the Ragan/NASDAQ research is this:  Company staffing and resource allocations have a ways to go to catch up with all the talk about social media.

Chances are, those resources will be easier to allocate once proof of social media’s payback potential can be shown.  But that might take substantially more time to prove than some people would like.

As if to underscore this notion, statistics compiled by IBM researchers covering the past holiday season found that less than 1% of all online purchases on Black Friday emanated from Facebook.  The percentage of purchases from Twitter was even lower — undetectable, in fact.

And similarly paltry results were charted for the rest of the 2012 holiday season.

As long as social media marketing continues to contribute such pitiful sales revenues, get used to seeing scant social media budgets and near-zero increases in dedicated human resources.

As direct marketing specialist and raconteur Denny Hatch has so pointedly remarked:

“Social media marketing is an oxymoron.  You cannot monetize a giant cocktail party.”

What do you think?  Is Mr. Hatch onto something … or is he just reaching for dramatic effect?  Share your own thoughts if you’d like.

Persistent Myth: The Ten Most Persuasive Words in the English Language

Advertising word cloud - persuadable wordsIt’s something many of us in MarComm have heard about and read about for years now: Which words are the most persuasive ones in the English language?

In fact, it’s been the topic of entire news articles since the 1960s.

The words in question sound just about as relevant today as they must have back when the first “definitive” list was published:

  • Discover
  • Easy
  • Guarantee
  • Health
  • Love
  • Money
  • New
  • Proven
  • Results
  • You

It’s a solid list … and it certainly seems like these words would be among the most persuasive ones in our language.

It’s also plausible that some sort of formal “research” would have been conducted to come up with the list in the first place.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case at all.  In fact, it seems more likely that the list was dreamed up on the back of a napkin by an advertising copywriter looking for an interesting new copy “angle.”

Allegedly, the first appearance of the English language’s  most persuasive words was in a trade publication called “Marketing Magazine.” But no evidence exists that such a publication ever really existed.

Instead, it appears that several businesses decided to publish a list of persuasive words as a way of promoting their own products and services.  Attributing the list of words to a third-party (fictitious) publication with an authentic-sounding name gave their promotional messages an added flavor of credibility.

The list appeared first in a New York Times advertisement in 1961, and it was picked up several months later for an ad run in the Washington Post by Levitt & Sons, a real estate developer (of Levittown fame) that was promoting its new Maryland-based Belair at Bowie development at the time.

Both ads touted the elusive “Marketing Magazine” as the source for the list of most persuadable words.

And then the group of words began to morph, as “lists” of this kind are wont to do. More “experts” got into the game … more words were switched out or added … and more sources were cited as being the wellspring of the research: Duke University; the University of California; Yale University’s Psychology Department (!).

But who really cares about the provenance of the list? As it turns out, these “persuade” terms are among the most popular ones that advertising copywriters have used for years.  And for the most part, the terms retain their power to persuade, 50 years on.

For the record, other words that have made it onto the list at various times include:

  • Amazing
  • Announcing
  • Bargain
  • Compare
  • Easy
  • Free
  • Happiness
  • Hurry
  • Improvement
  • Introducing
  • Miraculous
  • Now
  • Offer
  • Quick
  • Remarkable
  • Revolutionary
  • Safety
  • Sensational
  • Suddenly

Regardless of which words actually belong on a “Top Ten” list as opposed to being the runners-up, there’s one thing you can say about all of them: They’re oldies but goodies. 

And this, too:  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

It’s Official: Instagram is in the Big Leagues Now

Thanksgiving Day 2012 on Instagram
Thanksgiving Day 2012 broke all records for Instagram’s photo sharing volume, with over 10 million photos shared and more than 225 per second at its peak.

Instagram, the mobile photo sharing service that came on the scene about two years ago, has been quietly building a following among many people who are attracted to its simplicity and ease of use, along with the enhanced image quality it offers. 

This past Thanksgiving proves how important Instagram has become within the social media fabric.  On Thanksgiving Day, fully 10 million photos were shared on Instagram.

At its peak time at 3:40 pm (Eastern Standard Time), photos were being shared at a rate of ~225 per second.  and throughout the the peak dinner hours from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm EST, more than 200 photos per second were being shared.

According to Instagram’s statistics, Thanksgiving Day was the busiest in the service’s history, which normally has about 5 million photos uploaded per day.

Facebook, which acquired Instagram in September, sees far more photo uploads on its flagship social platform – around 300 million images per day – which makes Instagram a relative babe in the woods. 

But Facebook looks to have big plans for Instagram, including a goal of doubling the number of app users from ~100 million to ~200 million.

Clearly, Instagram is one social platform that merits following in the months ahead.  Now that it’s joined the rarified ranks of the other platforms that have broken through to the “big leagues,” it’ll be interesting to see where Instagram goes from here and how it monetizes itself.