The workforce social contract has taken a beating in recent years.
By Duncan Ferguson and Jay Scherer
Last week Cindy, a vice president with a Fortune 500 company, received a job offer and turned in her resignation. She was a valued leader and employee who at one time felt a strong connection to her employer. But recently her perspective had changed. The company had struggled through the economic downturn, and although the future appeared brighter, she felt different about the organization. She had seen many friends and coworkers lose their jobs. The people left, but the work didn’t. Benefits were trimmed. Bonuses were nonexistent, and salary increases were minimal, if at all. Employee development dollars virtually evaporated.
As the job market improves, this is a drama that is starting to play itself out across the corporate landscape, leaving many organizations with a two-pronged challenge: How do you convince employees and recruits alike that the company is recommitted to an offer that equally balances the needs of the organization and of the employee?
The company offer is sometimes referred to as an employee value proposition, a phrase intended to create a unique brand to attract, engage, and retain employees. You don’t hear this term much these days. That’s because many employees have come to believe that the value proposition, which is employee-centric in good times, becomes an employer-driven proposition in times of economic distress.
Companies are now facing the dilemma of reconfirming or rebuilding their offer to ever more distrustful employees and recruits. And the stakes are high. The job market is heating up, demographic dynamics are dramatically changing the talent landscape, and the war for top talent, which was only temporarily muted during the recession, has resumed in full force.
On the front lines of this battle are recruiters, both internal and external, who oftentimes become the first point of contact in selling the company to potential new hires. Combine a stronger job market with a few years of recession-related cost cutting measures, and recruiters face an uphill challenge in communicating a company’s offer to a suspicious audience. “As the pendulum in the job market swings from buyer to seller, candidates have become much more critical about the company’s commitment to its employees,” one executive recruiter recently observed. “This makes our job that much harder.”
So, what can an organization do to create a compelling offer that will deliver an easier sell for recruiters?
• Have a consistent brand promise that the job market understands
and can count on. If you have a great product and brand that truly delivers on its promise, the market will know it.
• Operate with a philosophy of shared success. This involves working to truly balance the needs of your employees with those of the other important constituents. This philosophy must start with the CEO—not with the CHRO.
• Organizations must create a long-term employee development philosophy and remain committed to it, despite market conditions.
• Stop measuring employee engagement and start doing something about it.
• Set a standard for leadership that is contemporary, balancing competing constituents and firmly connecting the needs of the individual with those of the organization. Great leadership drives a great offer.
The best strategy is to tell the truth. Discuss the positives as they truly are, and also discuss the challenges. Candidates know that no one company is perfect. It is important to take time to understand the company’s true brand in the marketplace. Market information is powerful: A good recruiter knows how to collect it and leverage it to build shared success. Additionally, build a marketing plan that is realistic and attracts potential customers who are a good fit with your offer. Also, think like a sales executive who excels at consultative selling. Work to understand the needs of your candidates, and openly discuss how your company fits their needs.
Back to Cindy. Had her organization reacted differently during the economic downturn, would her decision to leave the company have changed? Maybe or maybe not. More importantly, what probably would have changed is Cindy’s response to the following question:
“A recruiter just called and asked if I would be interested in a job with your company. He told me it was a great place to work. Is it?”
Duncan Ferguson is managing director of leadership development at BPI Group, where Jay Scherer is a managing partner.