Eventually, all leadership teams come to a realization that if they “win” in attracting higher caliber people than their competitors to their company then they will also “win” in their marketplace. Having a better team of people in place than your competitors is a sure-fire way to create a sustainable competitive advantage. But doing so is tricky.
Look no further than Google as a means of proving my point. Google “enviable work place” or, better yet, “best place to work,” and you’ll be bombarded with endless frameworks, strategies, processes and “how-to” tips for building a better workplace for your current and future employees. So who do executive teams typically turn to for guidance and counsel? Who do they ask to lead them to the Promised Land? Yep, enter the CHRO and their HR team. Most HR teams today are charged to lead a strategy that transforms their run-of-the-mill workplace into one that will attract and retain a better and more capable talent mix. Such a charge typically comes in the form of improving employment brand, increasing employee engagement, and improving staff attrition rates—or all of the above.
But the formulas for achieving this are mind-numbing. So, I’m here to offer a more basic way to think about this challenge, and frame your solutions:
1. First, make sure you offer competitive total rewards for the contributions your employees make. By competitive I don’t mean top quartile, or even 50th percentile. It simply means you’ve got to be in the ballpark. Pay competitively enough that compensation comes off the table as a reason people won’t come to work for you. If you don’t offer competitive pay and benefits, then being unique and different won’t matter. Other strategies won’t matter either. Pay strategies (mix of base/variable, and benefits offerings) vary dramatically based on position, level and role. But do your homework on what your competitors are paying for similar roles, and make sure you are in the same zip code.
2. Second, create opportunities for growth and professional development. Again, not just promotion or paying for someone’s MBA. I’m talking about professional development in-role, access to working in new areas or functions, job shadowing or stretch assignments. Sure, tuition reimbursement policies, promotions, and rotation programs are great ways to show you’re committed to each employee’s professional development. But what if I don’t want to climb the career ladder? What if I’m unwilling to trade the additional time for the incremental pay associated with the next rung on the ladder? Making sure each employee in your company has the opportunity to grow and develop professionally is critical to becoming an enviable place to work.
3. Third, make certain your work environment is appealing and attractive. It doesn’t have to look like Apple, Google or Facebook. You don’t have to offer five star meals, have ping-pong and pool tables in the commons, or offer on-site child care (although any of these would certainly help). You just have to be certain that employees have the tools to do their jobs at high levels, and that they are comfortable, feel supported, and enjoy those they work with. The latter two (feeling supported and enjoying those they work with) are often the most challenging part of this formula. But great people attract more great people. Diversity attracts diversity. Innovation attracts innovation. Brilliance attracts brilliance. And yes, arrogance breeds more arrogance so be careful who you hire and be absolutely certain they will attract more of those you want to be part of the team, not attract more who will detract from the work environment you are trying to create.
4. And finally, be unique and different, and don’t attempt copy anyone else’s formula. Great employers crafted their own unique cultures. Apple didn’t copy IBM, Google didn’t copy Facebook, and Zappos didn’t copy Amazon. Figure out what makes your company different, why someone would want to work there, and promote those enviable traits. If you can offer more advancement opportunity than your competitors, great. Maybe you offer greater professional development, or your employees get to work on cooler more “resume building” projects. Maybe work-from-home or schedule flexibility is your shtick. Don’t just think about the tangible elements of employment (pay and benefits) that can be your differentiators, but rather anything that your company can offer that others can’t—or at least not in the same supply.
If you offer something unique and different, pay and reward competitively, invest in employee development and offer a solid work environment then you are on your way to being an enviable place to work. Not for all, but for those you want to attract most. Remember, you need all of the above. If you have a great work environment but don’t offer professional development then people will leave for better opportunity. If you offer professional development opportunities and a great work environment but don’t pay competitively then people will go where the financial rewards pay them what they’re worth.
Follow this simple formula and you can avoid the pitfalls of complicated strategies and frameworks for what might be the greatest challenge facing HR teams today. Yes, it’s that simple.
Your executive team is happy, your employees are even happier, and you’ll sleep well at night knowing you’ve created an environment where employees can thrive and prospective employees want to be. Job well done.
Ed’s a career HR front man who’s advised business owners and the C-suite on developing great cultures and inspiring work environments since the profession was called “personnel.” Yeah, that makes him seasoned but also quick to call out the fluffy HR theoretical crap from HR strategies that actually work.
His versatility has taken him all over the world, continually acquiring knowledge of how to build a great company through innovative HR practices, learning mostly from real world experience and his own mistakes.
He’s the founder of HRO Partners, a HR consulting firm that specializes in guiding leaders on what they need and don’t need from HR for their business.