The war for talent is fierce and it’s only getting more intense. We’ve all heard the stories of how companies like Google and Apple offer unparalleled perks and benefits. But there’s a lot more to attracting and retaining top talent.

The statistics are daunting. By 2020, according to one McKinsey study, it is predicted there will be a shortage of 30-40 million​ college-educated workers. One factor is education. There aren’t enough people getting advance degrees in relation to the needs of the market place. Also a factor: an aging workforce. 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day, and there will be fewer younger people to replace them over the coming years.

Despite this, many companies find themselves in a weak competitive position. Years of underinvestment have made it difficult to convey a meaningful value proposition through a distinctive employer brand. And that should be terrifying for many.

Here’s what you can do to help create competitive advantage for your organization:

It starts with culture

Culture is comprised of the formal and informal values, behaviors, beliefs and attitudes of an organization. It can be a differentiator for employee attraction and engagement. Companies that are intentional at designing and living their culture tend to be top performers in their category. Southwest Airlines and Zappos are two well-known standouts often cited for clarity, simplicity and authenticity in their approach. They are able to attract the type of people who align with their culture and beliefs — the most critical element in delivering a consistently superior brand experience to customers.

The key drivers of culture are purpose and values — what Jim Collins refers to as your “core ideology.” Purpose defines the fundamental reason for your existence and the difference you will make in the world. As more and more people seek to do meaningful work, especially millennials, they are attracted to purpose-driven companies. Values are your core principals and beliefs that guide individual and organizational behaviors, actions and attitudes.

Once you’ve developed your purpose and values conceptually, the next step is to figure out the right words to express them. Think passionate authenticity rather than bland, generic ideals. Purpose and values that truly capture the essence of your culture can be meaningful differentiators of attraction.

Make your promise

It starts with the greatest, most compelling pledge you can make to your employees, current and potential. The ultimate answer to ‘why work here; what’s in it for me?’ Your Employee Value Proposition (EVP).

An effective EVP aligns with your purpose. It states the bigger organizational opportunity and the challenge — the problem you’re trying to solve every day and how that’s meaningful through an employee lens. Conversely, it also helps people understand if your company is aligned with their individual goals, priorities and needs. An EVP that speaks to specific professional and personal desires will attract the people who want to be a part of your mission (and repel those who don’t).

To underscore the promise, the EVP must be substantiated and supported by a strong set of attributes. These are the unique opportunities and professional benefits beyond the standard set of healthcare and perks. From Glassdoor research, some significant attributes that contribute to happy employees are: collegiality, meaningful advancement, challenging work, work/life balance, diversity, and trust in leadership.

Be distinctive

Don’t look and sound like everyone. Push the boundaries and and break through the noise. In today’s overly complex world with thousands of messages and images overwhelming us every day, we’re on sensory overload. The ability to get noticed and be heard takes an effective strategy, brilliant design and meaningful story. Be distinctively different. Find your singularity. Be authentic, yet original. Choose your words and images carefully. Then be bold.

Distinction also comes from the way you tell your story. Your goal is to capture the hearts and minds of your prospects. Absent first-hand experience, powerful storytelling is the best way to make an emotional connection. Make it personal, relevant and purposeful. Let others see and feel themselves in your stories and in your company.

First impressions count. Too many companies fail to take the time to make the effort and investment. This is especially true on the careers sections of corporate websites, one of the first places a prospect will check you out. Often there’s no message, no feel for the company, bad stock photography, and, worse, some have little more than job postings.

Build awareness

Many of our clients are market leaders or successful market challengers. They’ve created game-changing technologies, but no one’s ever heard of them. They tend to be great companies with inspirational leaders and engaged employees, but they need our help building their brand and bringing it to life. Top talent wants to work for top companies doing important and meaningful work. You can’t win the war for talent if you’re not in the game.

It’s imperative to take an active role in telling your story and use all channels to reach your audiences, especially potential employees: corporate websites and careers pages, all aspects of social media, PR, recruitment marketing, social responsibility and community outreach, business and industry recognition…the possibilities are endless. There’s no special sauce. The key to effective branding is consistency and clarity, and the return on your investment is significant. Be intentional in crafting your message to enhance your reputation, then communicate, communicate, communicate! There’s an additional benefit. You will likely instill pride in your current people.

People First

Companies that put their employees first, ahead of customers and investors, tend to have a more engaged and happier workforce. They tend to outperform those who don’t.

People first companies are human at their core. It’s expressed in their behaviors and actions, attitudes and norms, in their rituals and in their language.

You may not offer the highest pay or have the best perks, but when you’re focused on your employees’ professional and personal well-being, growth and advancement and helping them reach their full potential, your retention rates typically increase.

When employees see your commitment and they feel truly valued, you will have done a great deal to have earned their trust. And in return they will take care of the business. They’ll care more, do more and give more.

People first companies speak like people, not like a corporation. They talk to their people like people. They are transparent, truthful and respectful. They have conversations. No corporate jargon or corporate spin. Don’t insult your employees with the corporate BS. You’ve hired smart people, they see right through it. It’s disengaging and demeaning. Most of all, it’s not how you win at the end of the day.

Attracting and retaining top talent, like most valuable endeavors, takes commitment, consistency and perseverance. The good news is you don’t have to boil the ocean to make a difference. It’s important to do each of these steps well, creating a lasting foundational asset. Once you build the momentum, you’ll be surprised how the elements start to fall in place.


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Purpose — Why we exist. The fundamental reason we’re in business

Values — What we stand for. Guiding principles for how we do our work

Employee Value Proposition

Promise — The greatest pledge we can make. Our essential value to employees

Attributes — What we provide. The emotional and functional benefits that support the promise