Upon their quest to find and retain top talent, businesses often try to match their competitors’ offers, ensuring that their compensation schemes, health care benefits, training programs, and other talent-management practices are in line with the rest of the industry’s. While this strategy may be useful for bringing job candidates to the door, it’s not necessarily the most effective way to usher people right across the threshold – great employees who will be enthusiastic about their work and fiercely loyal to the organisation and its mission.
Nor does marching in lockstep with industry standards prompt companies to consider what’s unique about their histories and values or potential employees’ attitudes about work. Certainly, reasonable pay and a breadth of health care options matter to prospective hires, as do the tasks they’ll have to perform. But people also choose jobs and become more engaged with their work on the basis of how well their preferences and aspirations mesh with those of the organisation.
You need to be able to tell new and prospective hires what it’s like to work at your company, to articulate the values and attributes that make working at your firm unique. By providing a ‘signature experience’ that tells the right story about your company, you’ll empower the people who share your values and enthusiasm for work to self-select your firm, thereby creating the foundation for highly productive employee-employer relationships.
The following seven points will create a solid foundation for building your signature experience…
Bringing distinctiveness to life
A signature experience is a visible, distinctive element of an organisation’s overall employee experience. In and of itself, it creates value for the firm, but it also serves as a powerful and consistent symbol of the organisation’s culture and values. The experience is created by a bundle of everyday routines. Or signature processes, which are tricky for competitors to imitate precisely because they have evolved in-house and reflect the company’s heritage and the leadership team’s ethos.
Target a segment of potential employees
Most executives can tell you which consumers will buy their products or services. Few have the same insight into which job candidates will buy into the organisation’s culture and adapt to its workflow. Companies that target potential employees as methodically as they do potential customers can gain a sustainable market advantage.
Address specific business needs Some companies’ signature experiences stem from critical business needs. Developing a signature experience that will address business needs within your organisation will encourage employees’ to not only achieve performance goals, it will embed operational philosophies into the culture of the organisation, leading to long term success.
Identify and preserve your history
The seed of a signature experience already exists in many companies. Their challenge is to find it, extend or shape it to the needs of today’s business, and protect it. Adopting a past practice and making it your own, or adjusting it to fit with the times of the organisation, allows what were effective organisational systems and routines to continue to be put to good use. By preserving your organisations history, you are continuing the founding philosophies of the organisation and carrying them into the future for all employees to benefit from.
Share your stories
One of the legends any MBA student is likely to hear is that of Goldman Sachs’s signature recruitment experience. Their selection process is truly an endurance test, requiring enormous resources. In a given year, around 5,000 applicants speak to ten members of the firm, and the top 2,500 speak to more than 30. Each year, Goldman Sachs invests more than 100,000 man-hours in conversations with prospective employees. This process is a reflection of the company’s deep commitment to internal collaboration and networking and serves as a preview of life in the firm. Sharing such stories of hard work and perseverance from within your organisation will create substance for discovery of your signature experience.
Strive for consistency
A signature experience must be buttressed by processes that send consistent messages to employees. Research shows that one of the most common causes of low engagement in organisations is employees’ perception that some elements of the work experience aren’t exactly as they were advertised. If you have new employees commenting “It’s just not what I expected or wanted”, after six months of working at your organisation, you may need to review the pitch used to attract job candidates, or the experience of working at your firm to match that of your pitch.
Have the courage of your convictions
Companies – even large ones – don’t need to be all things to all people. No matter the content of your signature experience, you can attract people who are suited to your organisation’s culture and interested in furthering its goals. Conversely, you must be willing to accept that your employment proposition won’t appeal to everyone. People will become long-term, deeply engaged employees of your company if their work experience is what they expect it to be and if your firm’s values and attributes match theirs. The best strategy for coming out ahead in the war for talent isn’t to scoop up everyone in sight; instead you need to convince the right people – who are intrigued and excited by the work environment you can realistically offer and who will reward you with their loyalty – to choose you.
Tamara J. Erickson is the president of the Concours Institute, the research and education arm of professional services firm the Concours Group. She is based in Boston and has written several articles for HBR, including the McKinsey Awardwinning It’s Time to Retire Retirement (March 2004). firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynda Gratton is a professor of management practice at London Business School and the author of Hot Spots: Why Some Teams, Workplaces, and Organisations Buzz with Energy—and Others Don’t (Berrett-Koehler, 2007). email@example.com
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review. [Excerpt/Exhibit] From What It Means to Work Here by Tamara J. Erickson & Lynda Gratton, March 2007. Copyright © 2007 by the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation; all rights reserved