Hire Your Future Competitor

On his excellent B2B Blog last Friday, Chris Koch reflected on Forrester’s recent decision to make all its analysts move their blogs into Forrester’s web site.

Forrester claims the move was made to protect its intellectual property. Koch’s view, though, is that Forrester’s motivation is to do the very thing it urges clients not to do: exert control over the way its employees use social media.

Though he doesn’t cite it specifically, I have to wonder if a related motivation isn’t to avoid creating competitors. As Koch notes, “The most powerful example of one of these personally branded blogs is Web Strategy by Jeremiah, by Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst who left Forrester prior to the policy change.”

While Forrester obviously wants its analysts to be well-known, it probably doesn’t want them to become so well known that they don’t need their employer anymore. The corporate brand wants to dominate its personal brands.

That might have been a smart business attitude for a content company once, but it’s dead wrong now.

In the publishing world, it used to be that when you interviewed editors and writers, you looked for evidence that the candidate would stay with you long-term. Likewise, most candidates wanted a chance to build a career within your company.

For the employer, it meant minimizing your hiring and training costs and benefiting from the ever-increasing experience of staff. For the employee, it meant not just job security, but continuing opportunities in experience and career advancement. It was, of course, a pairing of unequals, a master-servant relationship. But in the publishing world of old, it was the only way for the individual to gain access to the machinery needed to do the work.

That relationship has changed dramatically in the last decade. In the new-media world, individuals no longer need employers to build and maintain a publishing career. With the tools necessary for online publishing now essentially free, the employee has become, in terms of production, the equal of the employer. As Jeff Jarvis put it four years ago, “The empowered individual can create a media company, using blog software; create a manufacturing company, using somebody else’s factory and somebody else’s distribution; create a multinational enterprise, using nothing more than a Skype line.”

In such an environment, it makes no sense to hire people because they are likely to stay put. What you want is just the opposite: people who are likely to burst through personal and professional boundaries, to innovate, to try out new and untested ideas and technologies, and to build up their personal brands. In other words, you want editorial and journalistic entrepreneurs.

The best employees in the new-media world are those who have the potential to become the employer’s strongest competitors. As an employer, your goal should be not to repress, but to nurture their competitive instincts. If you don’t, you won’t be maximizing your own competitive potential.

One thought on “Hire Your Future Competitor

  1. Really well said, John. With the rise of social media, companies can’t hope to maintain the kind of control over employees that they once had.

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