If you do an Internet search on the ‘Employer of Choice,’ you are likely to get around half a million results. It is justifiably a hot topic these days. With talent shortages in many fields, organizations are keen to ensure that they attract, and retain top talent. Hence, many organizations are working hard to establish, polish, and sustain their employer brand.
Typical surveys that measure ‘Employer of Choice’ seek inputs from current employees. So, the data probably meets quality criteria such as Comprehensive, Reliable, Differentiating, and Useful. However, as they are based on a selected and biased sample (current employees who choose to stay and to complete the survey), they might not meet the data quality criteria of Valid and Defensible.
This is not a problem as long as the organization brands itself perfectly aligns with the survey data. Unfortunately, many don’t. Instead, they attempt to brand themselves as already being what they aspire to be, and the new recruits discover that they are the ones expected to help create the very culture (the brand) that attracted them. The consequence is an initial peak in applications matched by a delayed peak in early attrition.
Branding should not be treated lightly. We are all aware of the power of product branding. Many brands are household names and even become synonymous with the type of product itself e.g., Hoover, Scotch Tape. But, what we must remember is that the development of such brands is backed by an acute attention to the alignment of product quality with the message conveyed in the branding. Any organization seeking to brand itself as an ‘Employer of Choice’ needs to pay a meticulous attention to maintaining the quality of the employee experience provided. Many such organizations are thus investing in a range of benefits such as tax-free purchases, wellness programs, discounted gym membership, contribution match pension schemes, childcare, staff discounts etc.
If optimizing Employee Experience is key to being an employer of choice, then ensuring excellence in people management must be a high priority
But, herein lies the rub because survey after survey shows that around two-thirds of leavers cite an interaction with their manager as the trigger for initially looking for a new position; over one-third of employees not engaged and thus less productive than expected in their roles; less than half of employees have performance plans when 20 percent of the way into the performance year; and around one-third people managers dislike managing people. All of the above-mentioned employee benefits are very welcome. But they do not compensate for the flaws in two other HR processes — Management Appointment and Learning and Development.
If optimizing Employee Experience is key to being an employer of choice, then ensuring excellence in people management must be a high priority. However, in most organizations (there are a few notable exceptions) individuals are promoted into people-management roles as a reward for achievements, and NOT for demonstrated people-management capability. Unfortunately, few organizations now take seriously the need for dual-track or dual-ladder promotion paths; one, for those demonstrating people-management capabilities and aspirations, and other for those seeking technical/specialist advancement. Consequently, skilled individuals are promoted into people-management positions so that they can be given the benefits associated with being a manager.
Due to cost pressures and global competition, organizations continue to drive for efficiencies. “We have a strategy to become lean” is now a mantra. With this comes wider spans of control and fewer employee-manager interactions. Until those trends are reversed and only those individuals demonstrating people-management capabilities are given responsibility for others, the attrition and disengagement results will remain the same or get worse.
Learning and Development
Many organizations boast of the quality of training that they provide, citing education at local universities, sponsorship for certain qualifications, their overall budget etc. However, for the last 10 years or more, organizations have sought to “focus” their spend, in short, they prioritize training and development opportunities on compliance training, new starter development, HiPo (High Potentials) development and wellbeing, and stress management.
Promoting an individual prematurely or ill-advisedly might be acceptable if, immediately after promotion, substantial people-management development opportunities were provided. However, in most organizations, that is far from the case. Organizations are cutting overall L&D budgets and thus reducing the provision of management training:
- Cutting the investment in general management training, limiting this to populist initiatives for all rather than focused training based on need.
- Moving from face-to-face training and development to short web-based sessions, thus shifting the outcome from ‘skills development’ to ‘know about.
The consequence of the combination of these two major issues is that the quality of management and leadership is in decline. Unless addressed, this will undermine all efforts by those organizations to establish their brand as an “Employer of Choice.”
Any organization seeking to brand itself as an ‘Employer of Choice’ needs to pay meticulous attention to maintaining the quality of its employee experience
What’s the solution?
Given prevailing economic pressures, it is extremely unlikely that organizations will address this dilemma, at least in the short-term. To compensate, many are encouraging managers to take control of their own development. In fact, many managers, realizing the importance of their own skill and the failure of their employers to invest in them are taking control themselves without prompting. There are four critically important development domains for anyone aspiring to be a great manager and leader and each of these comprises specific competencies. Let’s look briefly at some of those competencies, the ones that are tightly linked with Employee Engagement.
Optimizing the use of resources to deliver the vision; making things happen. This domain includes such things as:
- Clarifying employee roles: Employees in the exit interviews often cite the lack of clarity around their role as a key frustration.
- Holding others accountable: Leavers frequently express frustration because their managers did not hold others to account and thus workload was unfairly distributed.
- Facilitating individual development: Great managers know how to enable each member of staff to develop and realize their true potential. This is known to be a key engagement driver.
Optimizing personal contribution and impact. This domain includes such things as:
- Demonstrating self-awareness: Leavers frequently state that their manager was unaware of how their behavior affected others.
- Building respect and trust: Respect has been shown to be a key driver of team performance1 A culture of respect and trust are critically important in achieving an Employer of Choice brand.
- Demonstrating empathy: Employees always want to be understood.
Demonstrating the knowledge, skills and aptitude to operate in a complex and changing environment. This subset of competencies includes such things as:
- Displaying political and organizational savvy - how decisions get made: Employees want a manager who can exert influence through the organization by understanding how it really works.
- Decision-Making: In today’s competitive environment, the ability to make quality decisions quickly is something that gives staff confidence as well as achieves business results.
- Resolving conflicting priorities: In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, there will always be conflicting priorities. If handled well by the manager, these can bring interest and challenge. If left unresolved, they bring stress.
Note: Business Acumen also includes “Demonstrating functional expertise.” Unfortunately, despite being a tiny part of management and leadership, this is what most managers have been promoted for.
Creating a vision of the future, bringing it alive, and securing the commitment and resources to deliver it. This subset of competencies includes such things as:
- Visioning and direction setting: As Simon Sinek clearly states, it is the ‘WHY’ that really matters to people. Thus, managers and leaders need to be able to create that higher level vision and set a direction that employees feel excited about.
- Inspiring others: Employees want to be inspired.
- Building the brand: Employees want their managers to support and develop the brand.
Being an ‘Employer of Choice’ cannot be developed in isolation by the HR or the PR – it has to be lived every day by the managers and the leaders in the organization, and when managers and leaders take control of their own development, the better chance any organization has of achieving its goal.
1 Paul Marciano & Clinton Wingrove, SuperTeams: Using the principles of RESPECT to unleash explosive business performance, McGraw-Hill Education; 1 edition (April 15, 2014)
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