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Keeping it Real

A cryptic email from a friend working for a company newly ranked on the “Top 100 Employers in Canada” list, read: “… who were they comparing us to – Federal Penitentiaries?”

While funny, this sentiment reflects the all too frequent cynicism of employees who don’t buy the company story because they live the reality. We’ve all been sucked into jobs through the “fantasy interview” where promises of fame, fortune, a great culture and growth opportunities dissolve into a reality more akin to a Dilbert cartoon.

BC is now facing the much-anticipated skills shortage and the war for talent is on. Holding onto valuable staff is critical, and earning the commitment of new hires is just plain strategic savvy. Yet revolving doors keep turning. Lists of vacant positions are long. People need jobs, but why is finding and keeping them so hard?

Authenticity is the key
to employee loyalty

Mind the gap

The Economist (October 7, 2006) reported that “…three-quarters of new recruits feel that their employers are failing to deliver on their promises…”

Anyone who has used the UK underground will know the “mind the gap” recording that echoes in stations alerting passengers to, well, mind the gap as they step onto the train. Companies that don’t deliver on their stated or implied promises should consider such a recording as new recruits (and employees) step through the front door, if only to be somewhat transparent.

And that’s just it. Employees aren’t looking for perfection. What they are looking for is authenticity. They want to work for companies they can trust to be who are who they say they are, and do what they say they’ll do. Companies whose stated values are actually evident in the way they operate. Sound gooey? Numerous studies deliver hard data to support it.

In today’s workplace, employees rate meaningful work over compensation. That is not to say they will tolerate unfair wage structures, but what motivates them and connects them deeply with their employer is to be able to buy into and believe in the vision, avail themselves of the opportunity to do what they are good at, contribute meaningfully to the success of the company, and grow. And in the current market, if they don’t find this, they will leave.

That sad truth is that most companies talk about staff as their most valuable assets. They promise growth opportunity and job satisfaction but either seriously delay in delivering it, or simply cannot. Rankings on “top employers” lists are worth nothing if companies manipulate what they do just to be ranked, without really delivering. Indeed, it’s better not to make empty promises. So even if the job ad sounds less attractive, it reflects authenticity, and employees are looking for just that.

The authentic brand

A brand is a personality and an experience. Most companies focus their brands on attracting and retaining loyal customers. These days more companies, particularly those in BC’s tech sector where competition for knowledge workers is particularly fierce, are realizing the need to have brands that will also attract and retain talented employees. This means brands have to have an external experience and an internal experience, and while there may be differences, they need to be aligned. What the vast majority of companies fail to realize is that it is the internal brand that powers the external one. After all, it is the employees who deliver the brand experience to the customers. Why would they deliver “on brand” if they are not experiencing it themselves?

Take the company that says it values its people assets and treats customers like kings and staff like slaves. The contradiction might not be immediately apparent to clients but you can bet employees will notice, and will resent the discrepancy. They will not only talk about it to others but the sentiment is likely be reflected in the way they treat customers or in their loyalty to their employer.

It is a worthwhile investment for any organization to develop and deliver an internal, or “employer” brand experience to its employees. Ultimately, it is this authenticity that will truly engage them, inspire them, keep them and motivate them to deliver the brand experience to customers.

Employees network, convey unspoken messages, inform and influence the employment decisions of new talent. A truly engaged employee is prepared to put his or her personal reputation on the line by recommending their employer to their friends and networks – whether or not they are paid a referral fee. If they so much as sniff a lack of authenticity, you can count them out for referrals as it jeopardizes their own reputations. For better or worse, your staff are your brand ambassadors. Great employee ambassadors are magnets for attracting new talent and engaging customers through the brand experience. If you look after your employees they are far more likely to look after your customers.

So here’s the big idea: If you want to retain and attract employees and customers, get real.
Employees who can trust the authenticity of their employers, who are informed, engaged and committed, are productive because they are intrinsically motivated. to see their company succeed. And fulfilled employees will give of their best and remain loyal to your organization.

This article was written by Catherine Ducharme and Sharon Habib.

Outsidein Communications is an integrated brand and communications company that specializes in developing internal and external brands, marketing and communications programs. Principals are Catherine Ducharme and Sharon Habib.

Edited version of this article appeared in the March 2007 edition of BC Business: Big Ideas page 25


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