How to Earn the Loyalty of Talented Employees
Until recently, companies advertised their job openings in print. Their job offers provided information about every available position, explained the requirements and provided the address for sending in a resume. But things have changed. Although you can still find those kinds of advertisements, major corporations are publishing ads now in which they transmit an idea and their image without offering information about any specific jobs. These days, a lot of well-trained professionals choose where, how and with whom they want to work. Furthermore, in the current labor market of almost full employment, university credentials are a less important factor in choosing the right employee than they have been in the past. This development coincides with a shortage of university graduates.
In Spain, where experts forecast a shortage of 800,000 trained professionals by the year 2010, the job market -- and the process of looking for a job -- has clearly changed.
What should companies need to do in order to find, hire and retain the best, most talented employees? Experts agree that companies need to not only change their recruitment policies but also to present themselves to job candidates as their best alternative on the job market. They need to learn how to market their job offerings as the most attractive options for employees’ professional development. That means that marketing is conquering the world of human resources. “In order to create a team of talented professionals, companies must design systems for identifying and analyzing the different types of people who are in their company,” notes Cristina Simón, professor of human resources at the Instituto de Empresa (IE) [business school in Spain]. That means “identifying talent and personalizing human resources in order to understand what motivates people as well as why they have chosen your particular company.”
Adds Consuelo León, a researcher at IESE: “Your staff must be closely linked to your company. If your employees identify with the company’s mission, you can be sure that the company will be successful.” Carlos Torrecilla, a professor of marketing at ESADE, warns executives that “talent emerges individually and it is quite normal for people to become discouraged [about their careers]. I suggest that you create policies for preventing talent from becoming discouraged and for letting talent flourish.”
The problem that many companies face is finding out which areas their employees are most talented in. As Torrecilla notes, “Good bosses are the ones who find out what each person is skilled at doing.” Everyone has some sort of talents, he adds. “The job of the boss is to figure out what those talents are and to differentiate them and group them in ways that enable people to accomplish their tasks.” In contrast, a bad boss “always thinks that his [or her] team is untalented.” León notes that the easy part is to differentiate the technical skills of each employee. “The hard part is to find out if that person has the people skills that will make him or her more efficient on the job….The human resources director needs to have experience detecting this characteristic of each new employee -- figuring out why that employee has chosen this particular company, what his or her long-term professional plans are, and how far he or she wants to get in his professional career.”
To retain the most talented people in your company, Simón suggests that executives “identify that talent and learn what each good employee wants and then listen.” Basically, that means carefully defining “what the talents that are already within our organization can mean for us.” Companies typically start out by focusing on highly qualified talent in such exclusively technical areas as information technology and telecommunications engineering. Nowadays, however, “the talent of a particular person cannot be evaluated just by what he or she knows how to do, but about how much he or she can achieve in the company if you facilitate things [for him or her],” says Simón, adding that technical knowledge must be complemented by such competencies as “passion, knowledge of the business, hard work, innovation and adaptability to change.”
If we want to build loyalty among our most talented employees, that means “not having to give [jobs] to those people who say they want them but to those people who need them. If we give jobs to the people who want them, the only thing we achieve is to accelerate the flight of that kind of worker [in the future],” notes Torrecilla. For Simón, the key is to personalize management. A company should have a philosophy “that directly involves middle management. The concept of personalization means understanding each worker, listening to his or her problems, resolving them, and making sure employees know they are being cared for.” León agrees that employees should not be treated en masse. Instead, it’s necessary to establish a first-rate system for internal communications and to “care a great deal about personal relationships between employees and their immediate bosses.”
Most executives believe that when a company is well positioned in the market, it attracts new employees who are talented. But not everyone agrees. “The business culture does influence this process, not the company’s positioning. What counts is the public image of your company and how that affects the business culture. A company’s positioning merely attracts some people but it does not enable the company to retain those people,” says Torrecilla. Simón estimates that fewer than 10 percent of all professionals are guided by the power of a company’s corporate brand. “Young people could be interested [as a result of the company brand], but the truly important thing is that your internal framework is oriented toward values that enable you to care for each employee.” León adds that professionals who have about a decade of job experience often have the goal of setting up their own companies. “The small- and mid-size companies that have a high growth rate are the ones that are interesting to employees who want to develop themselves as professionals.”
The war for talent has moved from the exclusive realm of human resources toward marketing campaigns designed to attract the right kinds of new employees. “It makes a lot of sense to meet each job candidate in person, but we cannot take advantage of this approach if we don’t have facts that confirm it. You have to be very careful and take measures that are appropriate for the realities of your company,” warns León.
Torrecilla suggests that a company should deploy a marketing plan that involves “defining a market, segmenting it, determining communications strategies for it and integrating everything…. In the past, workers were compensated only with a salary. Now, you have to solve some other problems in order to make them happy.” Simón believes this approach is very attractive “because it connects you to those people whom you find interesting.” However, Simón stresses that you have to communicate “an informal and youthful” message to young job candidates. “Good word of mouth about your company is the best way to sell them.”
The experts agree that marketing plays an essential role for every company, especially “for the big multinationals,” says León, while Simón suggests that “you have to communicate close up and you have to spoil your employees a great deal when they deal with their bosses. You have to develop this type of communication and see what policies are needed in order to improve informal channels.” Adds Torrecilla: “You can’t find new talent [from outside]; you identify talent [from among your current employees.] All of us have some useful talent that needs to be discovered.”
The Labor Climate
To find out if your organization is one of the most attractive places to work, experts suggest that companies take the pulse of their staff with surveys of the labor climate and employees’ opinions. If results are unsatisfactory, make innovative changes. For example, in 2005, Bankinter [bank] was wondering how its workers perceived their company’s values. Using the results from such surveys, Bankinter went on to emphasize a change in its corporate identity. “There are some fundamental kinds of data that you can use to avoid the pessimism that always exists within a corporation. This kind of objective data is very necessary for making a decision,” says Torrecilla. León adds that such surveys “lead to some surprising results because they bring out different kinds of things that enable you to focus on the problems in your workplace.” Simón agrees about the importance of making these surveys but she warns, “You have to do a very good job of taking the pulse of your employees.” She also warns that you have to provide solutions to the problems that you detect or your next surveys will lose credibility [among your workers.]”
A high turnover rate and the constant demand for new personnel for new projects have made the consulting sector a classic case of “employer branding.” León says, “This affects the confidence and the pride of belonging.” For her part, Simón notes that this high turnover rate may be “healthy, but companies must concern themselves about a high turnover rate if there is no response [to job openings] in the marketplace [by potential new employees].” If you do a poor job of managing your employees, “that will lead to a major crisis within the company.” In Spain, people have a bad impression whenever a large number of people voluntarily leave a company. “It always leads to internal conflicts,” says Simón.
She recommends that executives change their mindset and “identify the kinds of talents that have left the company. Maintaining cordial relationships [with former employees] is fundamental. You have to analyze why people have decided to take their careers in another direction. That means using a network of former employees in order to keep the doors open so if someone wants to return in the future, he or she can do so.” For Torrecilla, the corporate turnover process “is like a ship that navigates stormy waters. Whenever the waters are calmed, we are all more efficient.”
Caring for the Image of Your Brand
One of the key challenges when it comes to competing for talented employees is the way you manage your brand image. “The image must be a reflection of what really happens within the company, the ‘corporate culture.’ The best way to preserve your brand image is to construct a culture that reflects that internal image,” says Torrecilla. León agrees, warning business executives to “measure their messages carefully and make them close to the reality of the company. There needs to be a balance between your internal messages and your external messages.” According to Simón, maintaining a clean corporate image is synonymous with “depending on employees who care about the corporation because they like it.”
An old saying goes: “If you want to sell outside your company, you have to start by selling within it.” Marks & Spencer, the British retail chain, has demonstrated that when employee satisfaction levels rise by 1%, that leads to a 3% increase in corporate sales. In Sears, the U.S. retail chain, a 5% increase in the rate of worker satisfaction leads to a 3.5% increase in sales. At Citibank, managers follow the principle that business results improve whenever employee satisfaction rates improve. Rising satisfaction among your employees leads to a higher rate of customer satisfaction.
Everyone knows about the remarkable power of advertising. The key question is whether advertising your brand always brings you benefits. Not necessarily. “It doesn’t do you any good if your advertising is not segmented,” comments Torrecilla. “If I tell my workers that we are leaders [in our market], some kinds of workers will accept that message and others will not. Different people react in different ways. If your advertising is not segmented, it will not help you.” Simón adds that the power of advertising lies “more in its ability to attract employees than to retain them. Yet advertising can communicate two or three ideas with great clarity.” León believes that this problem is inevitable, while agreeing with Torrecilla, who calls for “diversification.”
All the experts agree on the fact that the most damaging thing for employees is a discrepancy between the corporate message and day-by-day activity. “If my company says that it supports reconciling workers’ careers with their family lives, but then it gets rid of a worker who is pregnant, this disconnect projects the worst image that you can imagine. So it is very important to measure the messages that you are transmitting and adjust those messages to correspond to reality,” says León. Torrecilla warns companies not to send the same message to all of their employees. “If the goal is for all of us to act as a single entity, we need to stop sending different kinds of messages [to different kinds of employees].” Everything that happens in a corporate environment must be communicated in a clear and consistent way, concludes Simon. “When employees realize that there is some inconsistency, they lose confidence. You have to make it very clear what you want to offer” your employees.