Demanding Transparency

I used to believe in something I called controlled transparency.  Except I don’t think any message can be controlled.  Only transparency is transparent.  The rest is fake, and in the end it is out of our control unless we choose to be completely honest with ourselves, our customers, and those around us.

Having spent nearly 13 years in the HR, Human Capital, Recruiting spaces, I like to think I understand the industry’s ebbs and flows.  Except that I’m relatively new in the business services and vendor context.  What most workplace practitioners don’t know is that anything and everything in this industry is bought.  Meaning that casual mentions in white papers, product referrals and recommendations, and coveted best HR vendor lists come at a price.  Either you are on the receiving end of said deal or you are paying the expert for the connection.

Now some might call this capitalism at it’s best, and I absolutely agree.  Businesses are in the business of making money and generating revenue.  Except that the end-user is left unaware.  Unaware of the side deals and bought recognition even exists.  No one talks about this.  I think it’s part of some silent code.  Until me.

I guess it was about the fourth phone call last month offering me an opportunity to be guaranteed 15 meetings with senior level decision-making HR executives for the bargain price of $20,000 that I had enough.  The sales person was tough.  When I said no, I’ve heard this story before, she asked me why I didn’t place a value on talking directly to the decision maker.  And so I countered with, “I get paid to speak at events like yours.  Are you not placing any value on me and my expertise?”  I hung up.

Every single industry best list or recommendation in this industry is self-serving filling their pocketbooks instead of really solving the bigger problems.  I would be lying if I said that people haven’t approached me asking to be listed as a recommended resource on my blog.  I politely declined.  I only want to work with quality vendors who have good products and not just a heavy pocketbook.  In many ways, that’s the problem with the entire industry.  There are only a few who use this approach like me.  And others treat me with disbelief and skepticism.  Asking if this girl is really for real?  Yup, it’s true.

Everyone keeps their associations, affiliations, and partnerships a secret, and they don’t disclose to their target audience the facts.  I think many have good intensions, but ask your HR consultant the next time what their referral bonus for the product they recommend or if they sit on the vendor’s advisory board?

Even in our tiny microcosm of a blogosphere I see this happening.  Many HR bloggers were compensated over these last 12 months traveling to events, conferences, and receiving cash to cover their expenses with no mention of a relationship or disclosure anywhere in their blogs.  How can you, the reader to know when they don’t provide the information needed to make an informed decision?  In the United States, bloggers and the company’s that fund said bloggers are required per the FTC to disclose paid relationships when they are compensated for articles or receive free product for reviews.  Except that most don’t.  I do.

There are no governing laws for bloggers in our space outside of the US.  The majority of these product reviews are paid, and no one voluntary chooses to disclose.  And so their bank accounts grow fatter while you think you are getting unsolicited advice from your friendly blogging expert.  Don’t be so naive.

I’ve always been upfront and chosen to disclose in blog posts where I was compensated in some way for product reviews using my handy dandy FTC disclosure.  You’ll see the disclosure also at the bottom of paid product reviews or when I received free product or travel to attend like my HR Product Reviews.  Well, it’s time I take things a step further.  Over the next few weeks, I will be adding a page to my website listing my current clients, board seats, and affiliations who work in the HR vendor and services space.  You can see directly who pays my bills so you can really make the best informed decision.  Am I credible?  Should you believe what I say? And do I sell my soul for $50 bucks and a free trip to Europe?

Demanding Transparency

For the rest of us in the space, I’m demanding transparency. . . I hope you do the same with your HR consultants, thoughts leaders, analysts, and service providers too. . . Demand transparency.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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Comments

  1. GREAT post, Jessica.

    This is very brave of you, but I don’t see many people answering your demand. Sad.
    Keep up the good work. Keep revealing the truth.

    Thanks!

    -Rayanne

    And…, YES, Broadbean has sponsored webinars, reviews, and conference parties with Blogging4Jobs. Thanks for the opportunity to reach your incredible audience.

    • Ha! Rayanne, I love your little disclosure at the end. We were friends and you were blogging over here long before Broadbean starting advertising or working with me. Someone’s got to keep those old timers in our space on their toes. Might as well be me.

      JMM

  2. Jessica,

    Very commendable of you. I love your approach and what you are trying to achieve here but I will have to assume that you will always be in a minority. It is a real shame that others will never follow your lead and some will even cry foul at the slightest indiscretion. Good luck.

    • Hi Guy,

      Thanks for the comment. I realize that most people will look at this post and say, “she has a lot of gall.” I’m cool with that. I’m also fine with being in the minority in being transparent about my business in this space. I would really like to open the eyes of practitioners a bit. These are things I had no idea were happening. Maybe I’m naive which I likely am, but I can only assume that I’m not alone.

      JMM

  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head Jessica. I would go to a mortgage advisor because they advertise they do not receive commission for selling certain mortgages – I am happy to pay them a fee instead to give me the most transparent advice on the best mortgage products out there. Same goes for the advice I receive from blogs.

    I think you’re position yourself really well, and yes I agree with Guy Swain, it will make you the minority. But the best is always the minority and not the average, isn’t it?

  4. Thanks Jessica — you’re correct — pay to play is alive and well! Transparency valuable to all consumers…B2B and B2C both! Your disclaimers are right on! I appreciate your courage and leadership!

  5. Thanks for a thought-provoking post Jessica- Having “grown up” the first decade of my leadership roles in the Ski & Resort industry, I can say for a fact that from the “kids on the floor” to the senior execs making partnership and sponsorship deals, it was a fine line between “customer appreciation” and “selling your soul”.

    On a closer note, I was very very mindful about who we partnered with from speaker and sponsor and “ambassador” sides of things for our event Impact99- every single one has been an authentic personal relationship and not just “buying your way into an event to pitch your products”.

    Nice work.
    C

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