Like you, I’ve worked for big companies and small companies. I’ve worked for companies that were almost minting money and those that struggled to make payroll. I’ve experienced the happiness of big bonuses and the frustration of no money for raises or bonuses. I’ve worked for companies that were totally flexible in their approach to work and others that were not. I’ve had fancy offices and barebones cubicles.

None of these factors affected the level of effort I gave, my passion for the business or my enthusiasm for making a contribution.

Like you, I’ve worked for great bosses and crappy bosses. I’ve experienced superior leadership and suffered through lame leadership. I’ve worked for organizations that inspired me and organizations that depressed me. I’ve worked for people who noticed what I did and others who took me for granted.

Each of those factors affected the level of effort I gave. In fact, in one instance, I started off with a great manager and strong leadership only to see it slip away in a huge shake-up. I went from a top performer to a mediocre one (and then I quit in disgust).

What matters

You don’t have to be in the high math group to figure this out. I firmly believe that the only way you get great employees is by hiring the right people and then paying real attention to them.

  • If you can’t make your employees feel valued, they won’t be loyal.
  • If you can’t make your employees feel included, they won’t be engaged.
  • And ultimately, if you don’t believe in your employees, they won’t stick around.

I’ve seen it too many times before. Hell, I’ve lived it too many times before.

Why, some of you might ask, is this relevant today, when we are still slowly and painfully recovering from the Great Recession? Aren’t people just grateful to have jobs today?

Let’s turn to the facts for the answer.

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2014 research speaks directly to this issue.  As explained by Deloitte’s Josh Bersin in Forbes:

  • 79% of business and HR leaders believe they have a serious retention and engagement problem (26% see it as urgent)
  • 75% are struggling to attract and recruit the top people they need (24% urgent)
  • Only 17% feel they have a compelling and engaging employment brand

Sure, you can fill positions with bodies. But can you meet your need for talent?

Becoming a great employer

To become someone who good people want to work for takes work:

  1. Knowing what employees value
  2. Hiring the right people
  3. Communicating effectively
  4. Valued employee proposition

Knowing what employees value

Let’s start by looking at what employees value. You know that we all compete for talent on a number of scales — compensation, benefits and job security, for example. Those are measurable, reasonably objective standards, and easy for employees to assess. But what makes you stand out as the place where great people want to give their best?

Susan M. Heathfield, well-known expert in human resources, lists five critical factors to build loyalty and engagement in employees:

  • Respected. Treat people with respect, recognize their good work and give them constructive feedback
  • Included. Make employees part of the “in-crowd”, knowledgeable about what is going on, not caught off-guard
  • Developed. Make career opportunities and learning easily available. Make performance development a priority
  • Involved. Give employees a voice on decisions that are made about their job. They should be encouraged to participate in discussions and contribute to decisions
  • Leadership. Give visibility and access to senior leadership. When employees trust their senior management team, they believe the organization is going the right way

When I look over these five factors, the word “valued” comes to mind. Because this is how you treat people you value and appreciate.

Hiring the right people

How do you create an organization that consistently fires on all five of these cylinders? It starts with whom you hire, whom you terminate and whom you promote.

Zappos does a lot of things right in this arena. They start with the hiring process, when 50 percent of an interviewee’s score goes toward values and cultural fit. It continues when employees go through orientation to learn about Zappos’ business, philosophy and culture. To ensure they hire folks who are a good fit, Zappos offers new hires $2,000 to quit, a move that has gotten a lot of buzz in the market. This bounty, along with pay earned, is offered to all new hires after the first week of training and orientation, in case they decide that joining Zappos was the wrong decision. Only three percent take Zappos up on the offer, by the way.

Communicating effectively

Many experts point to the power of saying “thank you” to an employee. I won’t disagree with this, but I think there’s more to the story than this.

“Brains, like hearts, go where they are appreciated.”

Robert McNamara, former president of Ford Motor Company

There are so many ways to show appreciation. Don’t just rely on one method (see sidebar for ideas). And never underestimate the power of what you do versus what you say — that is how employees will judge your sincerity and intentions.

After I had been at Sun Microsystems for about five years, I was restless. We had a new CEO, were going through very tough times, and I developed a wandering eye. My boss, Bill MacGowan, talked to our new CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, about my predicament. My CEO then asked me to take the lead on building a global social community for our employees.

In a single stroke, I was engaged again. I had new challenging work, and equally important, my bosses believed in my ability to be successful. I stayed until our acquisition by Oracle, even with plummeting stock value and no budget for bonuses.

 Three types of communication:

  1. Formal communication: Communication that is planned in advanced, distributed through predetermined methods, with controlled messaging. Great for getting a uniform story out and as the basis for systemic way of thanking employees and showing appreciation
  2. Informal communication: Conversations, asides, off-the-cuff remarks. Its very spontaneity makes it a powerful way to let employees know that they are valued, to ask for input, to discuss an important topic
  3. Operational communication: What you do versus what you say. What you reward. Who you promote. This is the most powerful communication of all, because it indicates what is really important to the organization

Valued employee proposition (VEP)

How do you talk to your managers about valuing employees? We are all familiar with the employee value proposition — the balance between the goodies your company offers (such as pay and benefits) and what is expected from employees. Do you have a valued employee proposition — a statement that lets leaders and managers know their responsibility for helping employees feel valued and included?

With a valued employee proposition as a stake in the ground, you can start to shape measurement programs around the progress leadership makes in the company toward creating the kind of inclusive, supportive environment that encourages employees to engage, do their best and build a career with you.

That leads to meaningful measurement of a soft task. Upward feedback is an excellent way to capture employee feedback and let you know how good a job managers are doing in this department. From there, think about training and tools to help your managers do the job.

Putting a formal process in place to improve management and communication skills is important just because managers are so busy. Unless it is built into performance evaluation, worrying about how to reach out to employees can fall to the bottom of a busy manager’s day.

Final words

Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh talks about the importance of treating your employees like you treat your customers. In fact, on delivering happiness to customers and employees, he says,

“People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Leaders and managers have the power to change how employees feel, for better or for worse. Be a great company and a great employer — use your power to make your top performers beam, your high-potential employees strive, and your average employees engage.

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