Want to Win the Talent War? Make Company Culture Priority #1!

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

When the term “War for Talent” was popularized by McKinsey researchers in 2001, it was a different world. Back then, companies were vying for the best and brightest job candidates as Baby Boomers were starting to retire. Hiring good people was challenging for business leaders at the time, but it was nothing compared to what they’re facing today.

The battle for workers twenty years ago seems almost quaint after the pandemic triggered a giant employment reset. The health crisis that many thought would be over in a few months still lingers, and its effects on how people view work are profound.

During the prolonged quarantine, a large sector of employees adapted to and enjoyed the benefits of working remotely. As time passed, many began to assess the necessity of on-site, nine-to-five jobs. Now, this newfound flexibility has become a requirement for more than half of workers worldwide, according to an EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey.

And dispensing with the daily commute is only one goal for today’s workforce.

People have been reevaluating their lives for over a year and a half, and many aren’t willing to return to work they consider unfulfilling. They want much more from their jobs than a paycheck.

In the newly amplified talent war, many employers are not only desperately trying to add staff. They’re also watching an unprecedented number of seasoned employees file through the exit door. People are taking their time deciding where to work, and they’re scrutinizing current and potential employers much more carefully.

What Are People Looking for in a Job?

Of course, competitive salaries will always be on jobseekers’ checklists. And from now on, so will the flexibility of working remotely at least part of the time. Most leaders understand this, and businesses in almost every sector have those enticements on the table.

But the companies that will win the latest talent battle offer something more than appealing compensation and benefits packages. They’ve also developed the kind of corporate culture that people crave.

Today’s job candidates are enticed by work that makes them feel purposeful and look for employers whose values and ethics mirror their own. Increasingly, they want to be part of organizations that make a positive difference in the world. And they want to grow professionally on the job—not just stagnantly fill a role.

Essentially, people are looking for organizations where they can plug into what’s important to them and excel. A thoughtfully created company culture can provide the work environment so many seek.

Word gets around about businesses with incredible cultures, and job candidates gravitate to them—often for less money than they’d make elsewhere. They can picture themselves working at these places. They want meaningful employment and aren’t willing to settle for less.

The bottom line is that employers need to think past looking for great recruits and focus more on what recruits want to see.

As Waterstone Human Capital CEO Marty Parker put it in his book The Culturepreneur, “Recruitment is no longer a question of where organizations find talent, but how and why people find organizations.”

The Company in the Mirror

If you’re a business leader competing for talent, take a good look at how your company operates. What do job seekers observe when they look at your organization?

Use the following four questions to help you view your company through potential employees’ eyes:

  1. What does your company stand for, and how do you help your staff connect to those values?
  2. How do you help people feel a sense of purpose about their work?
  3. How do your team members communicate, collaborate, and relate to one another?
  4. How are you helping your employees grow professionally?

This evaluation can help you develop the single biggest differentiator in attracting and keeping top staff—an exceptional company culture.

Let’s explore how a strong, vibrant culture can help reinforce each of these four areas.

1. Connecting Employees to Company Values

Most company leaders operate their businesses based on values they hold dear. These are the ideals they want their company to represent, and they frequently publicize them on company messaging to inspire their staff.

But today’s job seekers will tell you that formalized values, while admirable, don’t draw them to an organization. As great as the concepts may be, they’re only abstract ideas unless people live and breathe them. In short, values aren’t enough.

Recruits’ radar pings when they observe a team that embodies the principles framed on the wall. They know they’re witnessing something special.

This kind of unified culture doesn’t evolve on its own. Employees won’t cohesively exemplify company ideals if they’re left to interpret them independently.

Translating values to actions requires leaders to define and describe specific behaviors that bring these concepts to life.

CultureWise CEO David Friedman outlines how to do this in his first book, Fundamentally Different. He prefaces his method by explaining:

“Highly effective organizations create consistency between stated values and observed behavior through a very specific set of actions. They intentionally take actions that serve to make their stated values an everyday part of the fabric of how they operate.”

Once the behaviors are defined, leaders can model and coach them with their staff. Then, with consistent reinforcement and practice, the behaviors become standard operating procedure.

2. Purposeful Work

For most working people, a significant amount of their identity is wrapped up in their careers. Researchers at McKinsey report that 70 percent of employees say that their sense of purpose is defined by what they do for a living. Therefore, they want confirmation that what they do every day at work matters.

Beyond taking pride in doing a job well, workers yearn to understand how their roles and accomplishments connect to overarching company goals.

Yet McKinsey’s studies show that most people aren’t getting what they need from their jobs. Among the more than 1,000 employees surveyed, they detected a “purpose hierarchy gap.”

When asked if they were living their purpose at work:

  • 85 percent of upper management agreed
  • 15 percent of frontline managers and frontline employees agreed
  • Over 50 percent of frontline managers and frontline employees strongly disagreed

Why the disparity? Most companies don’t have mechanisms in place to drive a sense of purposefulness in the workforce. Leaders can overcome this gap by using company culture as a conduit to help employees feel connected to the big picture. Three ways they can do this are:

  • Openly and regularly communicate company goals and plans, and the “why” behind them
  • Create methods to illustrate the team’s interconnectivity and how everyone contributes to the value chain
  • Make purpose a habit by including it in reviews, meetings, one-on-ones, and individual and group goal-setting

This level of transparency should be evident even before people are hired. Potential recruits will find a commitment to purposefulness refreshing and meaningful.

Once hired, the onboarding process should focus on helping new employees connect the dots. It should include sharing company history, market competition and other challenges, the roles of each department, and how each person fits in. When purposefulness is anchored in company culture, employee engagement and retention statistics rise. 

3. Communication and Teamwork

With the number of hours most people spend at work, their teammates play a crucial role in job satisfaction. Even most remote workers must regularly interact with and depend upon other employees to succeed in their roles.

People looking for meaningful work want to be part of a team whose members put the organization’s priorities ahead of their personal agendas. So they’ll do online research and ask questions during the interview process about the quality of teamwork and communication employees experience. Many will bypass companies that don’t exhibit a team-first, collaborative culture.

Leaders can set expectations and standards about the multitude of ways that team members interconnect by clearly defining behaviors about teamwork. Employees then have a guidebook for best practices.

Some of the topics they can address in detail are:

  • Treating everyone with dignity and respect
  • Practicing blameless problem-solving
  • Honoring commitments
  • Attentive listening
  • Being responsive
  • Sharing information
  • Embracing diverse perspectives

Job seekers will be impressed by a formal commitment to the elements that create a cohesive, dynamic team. They’ll also understand that the people already on board are there because they adhere to these behaviors.

With this kind of support structure, potential recruits will know they won’t have to worry about internal silos or rampant egos. They’ll see that this is a cultural environment where they can jump in, collaborate, and make a meaningful contribution right away.

4. Growth

The potential to hone skills and opportunities for career advancement is more important to job candidates than ever before. After a tumultuous year and a half, many people feel they’ve lost traction in their careers and are scanning the employment scene for jobs where they can actively grow.

In a survey of over 2,500 workers conducted by Tiger Recruitment at the height of the pandemic, eight out of ten said they were very concerned about how the health crisis would impact their professional development. An increasing number of employers understand this, and formal training programs and subsidized educational options are becoming standard benefits options.

Employers that stand out even further in the recruitment market have made soft-skill enrichment part of their company’s culture. “Soft” or personal skills are the things that enhance performance beyond the technical requirements of a job. Savvy leaders create methods for employees to routinely practice behaviors that increase their capabilities and value.

Soft skills that can be constantly sharpened include:

  • Time management
  • Process-orientation
  • Organizational abilities
  • Communication practices
  • Proactivity
  • Adaptability
  • Empathy

These are the type of skills that help develop a succession of leaders within a company. They are also critical to master in the expanding model of remote and hybrid work where employees are more autonomous.

Make Your Culture Stand Out

The key to attracting top talent today is offering an exceptional culture—but it must be authentic. Job seekers will easily detect cultural window dressing. Fluffy perks like game rooms and food deliveries are not high on candidates’ lists.

As the CEO of two successful companies, David Friedman developed a process to create an organizational culture that attracts and cultivates great employees. He offers a step-by-step guide to building a high-performing culture in his second book, Culture by Design. A free, two-chapter download of this valuable resource is currently available.

Friedman based the CultureWise operating system on the principles outlined in his books. Business leaders across North America have taken advantage of this groundbreaking program and are using it to forge top teams. Visit the CultureWise website to learn how to plan, organize, and sustain the kind of corporate culture that will make your company sparkle in the crowded recruitment market.

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