Traditional sources of competitive advantage are giving way to people advantages. In the past winning companies were those that had better access to capital, materials, markets, or know-how. But today firms are achieving advantage by doing a better job than their competitors at attracting and retaining the best talent.
This is not an easy task. When we surveyed hundreds of leaders in late 2021, they told us that finding and keeping great people was the top challenge they expect to be facing for the next several years.
That said, overcoming this challenge is worthwhile. There are many benefits to populating your organization with great talent:
- High performing individuals drive results. People who keep their commitments, behave consistently, share new ideas and espouse an ownership mentality are the ingredients of winning companies.
- When you hire the right people your job as a manager is easy and you look like a management genius. But when you have the wrong people the work of management becomes tiring, tedious, frustrating, and unrewarding.
- High performers are great recruitment assets. One of the best sources for great new candidates is the existing people you have on the team. Away from work if they are speaking positively about their employer and that message gets passed on to their friends, family, and community, many of whom are thinking, “Wow, I wish I worked at a place like that.” We all know someone who has landed a job at a great company because they already knew someone there.
So, what does it take to find and keep great people?
Surprisingly the number one reason is not financial. Today it is culture. People leave a company either because of a dislike for the culture of their current employer or the promise of a better culture at the organization they are drawn to.
Our organizations are like magnets with two polarities that will either attract or repel talent. Positive attraction occurs when we have a powerful and desirable culture. But when an organization doesn’t have a clear and attractive culture the best people will be repelled.
Today there is nowhere to hide. Your culture is exposed to the world through online social channels and platforms like Glass Door. The experiences that employees have at any organization is now publicly shared.
This means that the work of populating roles in your organization with top talent starts long before the vacancy. By then it’s just too late. Months and even years of work on company culture, vision, strategy, and management competency are directly responsible for the number of candidates that are interested in working for your company.
Creating a Winning Culture
There are various models used by leaders when looking for ways to develop and improve culture. The most referenced is from the work of Jim Collins. Collins first introduced a 4-part model for vision in his 1996 Harvard Business Review Article titled, "Building Your Company Vision.” His model espoused the idea of having Core Ideology made up of Core Values and Purpose, and an Envisioned Future made up of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) and a Vivid Description of the future.
Collins went on to further research this framework, and authored several books which expanded the model, confirming that organizations with a clearly defined foundation significantly outperformed their competition over many years.
This model stands the test of time. It is rare for business leaders in this century to be unfamiliar with the acronym BHAG or terms like company values or core purpose. The actual labels are not important – guiding principles, core beliefs, etc. – what matters is that they exist and are alive in the organization.
A common pitfall with vision and culture statements is crafting them and then thinking the work is done. Some leadership teams hire a consultant, draft statements that sound catchy, do a bit of wordsmithing, and consider the project complete. Two weeks later the statements are appearing on plaques in the company lobbies, on the website and in annual reports, but they really don’t mean much to the people seeing them or working in the organization.
“Executives spend too much time drafting, wordsmithing and redrafting vision statements and nowhere near enough time trying to align their organizations with the values and visions in place.”
Culture and vision need to be communicated and reinforced. Leaders and managers don’t do enough to ensure clarity. Joseph Folkman writing for Forbes Magazine says: “In many organizations, the vision is not communicated often enough or through sufficient channels to stay present and familiar to employees … in the best organizations it’s clear that every leader and every function sees it as their responsibility to “own” and communicate the vision. When the communication comes from all leaders and from a variety of sources, the possibility of having the vision then embraced and executed increases substantially.”
When we interviewed Dan Coyle on Unleashed, he described that it is the job of leaders to create and constantly reinforce culture and purpose. It is like “emotional GPS,” or the windshield through which all perceptions, decisions and actions are seen through. Some of the best cultures take this to extremes. It can seem a bit corny with all the rituals and lingo associated, but this is part of the abundant communication of purpose. In our world today traditional hierarchies are becoming ineffective. All employees need to make decisions quickly without waiting for direction and having well-understood purpose provides the compass for decisions and actions at all levels.
Dan suggests many other ideas for creating winning cultures: the importance of physical proximity, the power of story, the need for healthy conflict and even the concept of shallow versus deep fun. All of these are examples of things that leaders can use to reinforce culture in their firms.
Playing the Long Game
Improving culture is a long game. It can seem like taking the time to build culture when there are many other day-to-day priorities. But building culture, shared vision and purpose will make all future interactions faster, more efficient, open, and innovative, and will pay dividends many times over.
If you’d like to learn more about how to build a magnetic culture and winning the talent competition or other ways you can take the simpler path to creating a great business, connect with us.
Article by Tim O’Connor