Brad Giles (pictured below) is one of Australia’s most sought-after leadership team coaches and author of Made to Thrive: The Five Roles to Evolve Beyond Your Leadership Comfort Zone. In this guest post, Giles argues your promise to your employees needs to be just as strong as the promise you make to your customers…
Imagine a TV image for a fast food hamburger. Plump, shiny, fresh! Now imagine the actual hamburger you receive in store. Flat, maybe messy, probably very different to the one in the advert.
And this is very similar to what employers do to employees. Unfortunately, the job advertising and recruitment process is filled with half-truths and often outright lies from both sides. Before employees begin, they’re told they are signing up for the plump, fresh burger, but after a while they realise it’s another flat one.
The word culture comes from the Latin word ‘colere’ which means to care or cultivate. Every employee will have a beginning, middle and end with an employer. It’s a leader’s job to cultivate people while they are their custodian. If you think about the best leader you have worked with, there’s a good chance they cultivated the people around them.
Ask any employer about the applicants they received for their last vacancy, and it’s likely they found it difficult to fill the role because they received a large number of unsuitable applicants and very few suitable applicants. More companies are competing for the best talent in the belief that there is almost no substitute for a higher percentage of top performers.
Equally the most talented people are applying for the jobs with the best companies that give them what they need today, and, offer the best opportunity for career advancement in the future. They are applying for jobs that are in their own best interests. If success in your job means leading a group of people who are most likely operating in their own interests, how can you get them to do their best work, with higher productivity and also achieve a higher retention rate?
You must understand what your ideal employees need from their place of work and consistently deliver it to them. This is done through an Employee Promise, a unique and measurable promise that meets the ideal employee’s needs, aligns with the organisations Core Purpose as well as helping to deliver the Brand Promise, the promise your organisation makes to customers.
In a 2001 Fortune magazine interview with Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines famously said, “You have to treat your employees like customers”. Note below how Southwest has interdependence between its Brand Promise and its Employee Promise.
The Brand Promise that Southwest Airlines makes to its customers is
- Low fares
- Lots of fun
- Lots of flights
The Employee Promise that Southwest Airlines makes to its employees is
- Lots of love
- Lots of fun
- Pro-active, co-dependent team
By delivering on the needs of their ideal employees, who have an instinctive desire for a loving, fun and pro-active, co-dependant team, which also aligns with what the ideal Southwest customer needs, Southwest create an interdependency between the needs of customers and the needs of their employees, thereby becoming a magnet for their ideal employees, and at the same time living their Core Purpose, to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable and low-cost air travel.
If we are to treat employees like customers, it begs the questions:
- How do we treat our customers?
- How do we attract customers?
- How do we keep customers?
- And can we emulate and align with our external client strategy, internally, to attract the best employees?
In order to attract and retain top performers to your organisation, you need more than tactics or gimmicks, you need a strategy. Using Michael Porter’s definition of strategy in this context you need to create a unique and valuable position in the employer market, involving a different set of activities from your competitors for the same employees. For example, Southwest employees might be instinctively compelled to work for Southwest and repelled from working for other airlines.
You must balance a strategy that creates a unique and valuable position externally to attract the right customers that align with your purpose, and you need a second strategy that creates a unique and valuable position internally to attract and retain the employees who also align with your purpose and are driven to fulfil that Core Purpose and Brand Promise to your customers.
If there is indeed no substitute for the competitive advantage of having the best people work for your organisation who will both help you live your purpose and deliver excellence to customers, then identifying the characteristics of the ideal employee, what they need and delivering it through an Employee Promise might be viewed as important as your external strategy.