Dear CEO: So you want to build a stronger company, and you’re savvy enough to understand that a winning team needs talented players. But now what? How do you attract them? After all, every company is after the same small pool of superstar performers, right?
Submitted for your approval, here are the 12 most effective ways to turn your company from an also-ran into a must-work-for.
1. Purpose attracts talent
Give them more than a reason to go to work. Give them a purpose they can be proud of! USAA’s purpose is to provide financial security to the members of the US military and their families. As they put it, “For those who stood tall for this country and for their families, we stand ready to return the favor.” What is your company’s purpose? If it’s to increase shareholder value, that’s nice, but… you can do better.
2. Treat them like adults
How? Institute The Nordstrom Code. As their postcard-sized employee handbook reads, “Use good judgment at all times. There will be no additional rules.” Do you have the guts to try this at your company? Only do it if you’re ready for Nordstrom’s success.
3. Put your people first
Adopt the Wegmans motto as your own: “Employees first. Customers second.” …But only if you want employees and customers as rabidly loyal as this privately owned grocer’s.
4. Encourage innovation
How? Embrace failure. Reward it, even. Most employees are much more afraid of screwing up than they are of being average. If you want to attract winners, you have to create a culture where failure – and breakout success – is part of the daily routine. Someplace like Google, for instance. Are you ready to call Google your peer?
5. Pay = Respect
You can tell recruits that you value your people all you want; it won’t make the first bit of difference if you don’t show it in this most basic of ways. Top talent deserves and demands top pay. You can’t pay average performers to be better. But you also can’t attract or keep the best if you’re cheap. (Sidebar: a few weeks ago, I saw a job posting on LinkedIn for “a senior marketing manager” with an average compensation around $49,000. That’s an example of not equating pay and respect.)
6. Be fair
How often does the word “fair” make it into your C-suite conversations? How often do your employees use it to describe your company’s decisions? Let Rotary’s question, “Is it fair to all concerned?” be your firm’s standard.
Do you really want to attract stars, or are you just paying lip service? If you’re serious about bringing the best to your firm, you have to demonstrate that top talent is recognized and elevated quickly, even skipping ahead of others in “the line.” If not, you’re squandering the talent you have – and that talent will lose patience and move on. This isn’t a new idea, either. Andrew Carnegie often promoted his most exceptional factory workers all the way up to partner. It inspired loyalty and great work, and turned Carnegie into the wealthiest man of his day. Kinda hard to argue with success, isn’t it?
8. Sail into the Blue Ocean
Nothing inspires the best among us more than a company that stands out as unique and special. Don’t just aspire to outperform your competition. Craft a blue ocean strategy that establishes a whole new market, making your current competition irrelevant! It worked for Cirque du Soleil.
9. Turn the pyramid on its head
Ever notice how the traditional org chart is upside-down, with workers squished on the bottom and the CEO at the pinnacle? Take what you have today and flip it. Your front line is what makes you money, so stick them at the top (in “The Value Zone”) where they belong, with management down below in “The Supporting Functions,” as HCL Technologies did under Vineet Nayar, before they grew from $800 million to $4.8 billion in just a few years. Print your revised org chart up and post it throughout your company’s offices. Now here’s the important part: live it!
10. Take a hike
Seriously: lock yourself out of your office for a few hours each day and mingle with the frontline managers and staff who are making your company money. And while you’re at it, ask questions and then shut up! Let them do the talking. Learn what your company is really about, and how your most important people think it could do better. This managing by walking around worked for Bill Hewlett and David Packard their entire careers. Chances are, it’ll work for you as well.
11. Join the Fortune 100
No, not the 100 biggest. CEO, make it your #1 obsession to earn a spot among Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. Why? Because there’s an outstanding chance that those companies are more profitable than yours. Yes, being nice pays.
12. Keep it up
Make this post the beginning of your efforts to attract top talent, not the end. I didn’t write this for your entertainment. I wrote it to light a fire under your butt. Want more? Start by reading my post, Build a Talent Magnet.
A version of this post originally ran on 12Most.