Updated: Aug 1, 2022
About every couple of weeks, one of my clients will call me and ask "XYZ company called me, and they want to talk with me about a role, should I talk with them?" My answer is always - yes of course you should talk with them, and I challenge them to be clear about their career aspirations before starting the conversation. Sometimes they realize what a great individual situation, boss, and or company they work for, and sometimes they can't wait to explore their options. Being clear on their career aspirations enables professionals to accurately evaluate their current role/leader/company against another potential opportunity. As a business coach, I learned that quality leadership and a healthy professional environment are significant drivers in recruiting and retention decisions.
In the war for talent, recruiting is the front line of the battlefield and in this type of war, the generals must lead from the front. High-value knowledge workers and sales professionals are not going to be lured to your company by some half-informed recent graduate recruiter dialing for dollars. Recruiting has shifted from being a traditional HR function, to now it's an ongoing and central part of every management and executive role. Executives must dedicate time, personal capital and be patient enough to develop an authentic relationship with candidates. This courtship, often lasts months, quarters, or longer.
The availability of great talent will either facilitate or constrain a company's growth potential and client objectives. Executives who win on the recruiting battlefield are becoming significant contributors to business growth. Furthermore, for most professionals the experience with the immediate leader is their experience with the company, so leaders with issues are going to struggle to recruit and retain talent. Professionals have options like never before and in an option-rich competitive landscape, there're not knowingly going to attach themselves to a bad leader, flawed leadership model, or unhealthy environment.
The Pandemic, Staffing Shortages, and Big Questions
There is a shortage of talent in every industry, position, and skill level. There was a growing shortage before the pandemic, but the pandemic has driven many people out of the labor market and has others reevaluating their work/life priorities. This talent supply/demand imbalance has shifted power toward the workforce and it's not going to get better soon. The Pandemic has everyone taking a step back to evaluate their lives and they're asking themselves questions like:
· In my remaining years do I really want to be doing this?
· Why would I continue with this company that has shown no respect or loyalty to its employees?
· Is this job worth 2 hours a day fighting traffic?
· Is living in this city with rising crime and taxes worth it?
· How can I spend more time with my kids?
Empty Slogans Vs. Purpose, Meaning, and Values
For decades employers have made mostly empty claims about their company and the importance of their employees to their business. My first company had this one:
"People are our most important asset"
Slogans like this one and other morally superior claims have largely been empty marketing and recruiting campaigns. When people are asking themselves big questions, evaluating their lives, and professional options against empty slogans that don't align with their experience they become less trusting of the brand. A recent study found that 49% of employees said they want to leave their current firm and another 26% said that for a 15% raise they would leave their current employer. These findings indicate to me that professionals have very little binding them to their role, leader, team, or their brand's mission/purpose.
I believe many employers underestimate people's desire to connect their professional energies with a sense of purpose and an organization with a positive mission/purpose. In addition to wanting competitive compensation, and a future with greater potential opportunities, many people want to have some meaning and purpose (large or small) in how their work connects to contributing something good to their clients, community, and perhaps the world at large. Even if these lofty aspirations are never fully realized, people appreciate a genuine and sustained commitment by the brand for doing something good. This is attractive to talent as well as the client base. Subaru, Zappos, and Patagonia have strong brands with clearly defined missions and values. They also receive some of the highest brand loyalty from customers and heightened employee commitment to the corporate objectives. You may not be able to create a corporate mission/purpose from your middle executive role, but you can create a strong sense of belonging, a team environment of respect, celebrate wins, and establish high standards for behavior and performance. Winners want to be with other winners, and nobody wants to work for or with a self-absorbed jerk, no matter how smart they are or what their individual contribution might be! The pain is almost never worth the return from a toxic individual or leader. You may think you have a difference-maker unicorn, but chances are you don't have the next Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, or David Tepper working for you.
The Five Big Questions
Going forward your candidates need to answer five big questions about you and your company.
Great talent always has options, so the more you can genuinely demonstrate the following the better your recruiting and retention will be:
1. Does the hiring manager have a good reputation, and can I trust them?
2. Will the brand help or hurt my income earning potential and professional aspirations?
3. How much operational dysfunction, toxic politics, favoritism, and bureaucratic BS will I have to deal with?
4. Will I feel welcomed by peers and are they high-quality professionals/people?
5. Is it a personality-driven "trust me" culture or a mission/values-driven system culture?
Most leaders and companies can't get to the finish line on all five, but the ones who can have talent and growth options unavailable to the others.