Any company can attract average employees, but it takes developing your brand to become an employer of choice to attract and retain the best and brightest, says George Thomas, senior vice president of Everstaff.

“Developing your brand is key,” says Thomas. “You need to have a consistent message, a strong ethos and a clear vision that can be understood at all levels of the company. Everybody needs to be able to conceptualize and understand that vision, and everyone needs to be working toward a common goal.”

Smart Business spoke with Thomas about how to develop your brand to become an employer of choice.

Why is it important for everyone to understand the vision?

If don’t have a clear vision as a company, you’re dead. To use a military analogy along the lines of the Napoleonic leadership style, Napoleon was a very successful leader because he knew what he did well, understood his limitations and always had a clear vision for his troops. There was always a clear focus on everyone in every unit (including the lowest ranking foot soldier) understanding all of the tactics to be used in a particular encounter (or battle) and thus bought in to the big picture and were better prepared and motivated to influence the outcome. Having a vision is key, and to develop the vision, you have to understand first what you do well as a company and then what you want to do well. Once you align those two, you can make it happen.

How do you begin communicating that vision to employees?

The goals and vision should always be simple at all levels — don’t complicate it and make sure everyone knows how they impact the ‘big picture’ at their level. There should be reports and metrics that can be used daily by employees so that everyone understands exactly where you are as a business, why you’re there, where you need to be and the steps you need to take to be successful. If everyone understands the vision and expectations, no one should ever be surprised by anything that happens in an organization.

What is the difference between a good company and a great one?

To move a company from good to great, everyone needs to understand where the company is going and that, no matter their level in the company, they play a key role and more importantly, understand what that role is. They’re not doing things just because you said so but because they understand their role in getting the company and themselves to the next level.

Too often, the vision gets watered down. Many times at the senior level, there is a complicated vision that is then simplified for mid-level employees. But it shouldn’t be that complicated at any level, as everyone should be able to understand it and conceptualize it in the same manner.

Without a common goal that they can communicate to each other, people become siloed and are likely to just do what they have to do to keep their jobs. They aren’t sharing ideas or communicating about how to improve the company, they’re just working for themselves. In that case, you are not going to get buy-in, which is the key to success in any organization. You only get  buy-in when people understand why they are doing what they’re doing and how it impacts the overall success of the company. If you don’t get buy-in, people are just going to be processors, not producers. And processors don’t make a company great.

How can a company begin to change its culture to become an employer of choice

Start with introspection and be most critical of yourself first. Say, ‘I’ve done a lot of things right to get where we are now, but I may have a dysfunctional company because we don’t have a strong ethos, or I don’t have a clear vision, or people don’t understand why they do what they do. I want to stop treading water and go from good to great, so what do I need to do to improve?’

Then get input from middle management, as they are key to understanding what is going on at your company. Next, go down to the employee level to get feedback on what they think you’re doing well and what you’re not doing well. You’re going to hear a lot of things you may not want to hear, but you need to encourage honest feedback in a professional and constructive manner because it’s going to help you improve your company. Once you’re gathered that information, you can work with senior management to produce a vision and a plan to get your company to the next level

Is this a difficult process?

Change management is by far the most difficult thing you are ever going to deal with as a company. But if you can figure it out, you are going to succeed. It’s well know that employees don’t necessarily love sweeping changes and especially in a company that has been siloed, they’re going to be suspicious. Overcoming that suspicion takes time and patience. If you try to change too much, too quickly, you’ll throw off your operations and productivity because people will be focusing too much on the changes. You have to be willing to invest the time and money to implement change properly.

How can creating this culture help improve your brand?

By attracting the best people. If you can get your best employees to take ownership and have a sense of worth in where the company is going, then they will network with other great people and you will attract the best talent instead of having to search for the best talent.

Your brand is a byproduct of your company culture. You can have a strong brand, but if your culture is not good and everyone knows that, people may recognize your brand, but they recognize it for the wrong reasons.

Take it slowly, get buy-in, make sure people know why they’re doing what they’re doing and communicate the vision in such a way that everyone can conceptualize. Develop the culture, and the brand will follow.

George Thomas is senior vice president at EverStaff. Reach him at (216) 369-2599 or gthomas@everstaff.com.

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Published in Cleveland

Becoming an employer of choice can help a company attract and retain the brightest employees, best its competitors and build a reputation as an excellent employer.

But it takes more than just saying it. Instead, employers have to prove every day that they value their employees, says Brendan Prebo, executive director at ASG Renaissance.

“An employer of choice is a company that has practices in place that promote a healthy, forward-looking and encouraging environment for its employees,” says Prebo. “Employees are looking for employers that allow them to think outside the box, that present a clear vision of where they want to take the company and provide employees with proper training for the job to hire and retain the best people. As a result, workers choose that employer when presented with other choices of employment, self-employment or retirement.”

Smart Business spoke with Prebo about how to become an employer of choice.

How can a company begin to develop its brand to become an employer of choice?

First, it’s important to realize that becoming an employer of choice is a strategy, not a tactic, and it needs to be a strategic imperative. The traditional view of HR is that it is a support function. But really good, really progressive companies — the ones that highly skilled, talented workers want to work for — have taken a new view of HR. At these companies, the head of HR sits at the table and is part of developing the strategic direction for the company.

Becoming recognized as an employer of choice requires a companywide effort, and companies must start internally. This means recognizing that their employees are their most valuable resources. Therefore, employers should take a close look at what is not working within their company before beginning to do any external marketing. At the same time, employers can’t be all things to all people, so it’s important to focus on the things that are important to your top performers.

It’s also important to communicate to employees the company’s goal of becoming recognized as an employer of choice so they understand the importance of this designation to the overall success of the company, and they can support the company in its efforts.

Employers also need to be consistent in their message and how they present it. Potential employees will be looking at an employer’s website, and its Facebook and LinkedIn pages. They perform online searches, so if you have a statement on your website that says you value diversity, you need to make sure that is represented in your brand.

What kinds of things help an employer attract and retain the best employees?

Employees are looking for exciting and challenging work; career growth, learning and development; great people to work with; a good relationship with their supervisors and peers; and a company that values its employees. Compensation is an important factor, as well, but money as a motivator only creates short-term results. You may be able to attract a great employee by offering that person a large salary, or keep an employee who might otherwise leave by offering that person a raise. But money is a short-term solution.

For lasting results, you need to look elsewhere. That means providing employees with meaningful work, encouraging them to take risks and think outside the box, having a clear vision of where the company is headed, providing employees with proper training for their jobs and setting and clearly communicating performance expectations that align with the company’s goals. It also means encouraging employees to continue to learn and develop their job skills, providing good leadership at every level and taking the personal needs of employees into account by offering flexible work schedules.

What are the benefits of doing these things to become an employer of choice?

Companies that are recognized as being employers of choice have an advantage in attracting and retaining the best talent. They have a more productive, motivated and committed work force, which directly benefits their customers and their brand, enhancing their competitive position and helping to build a sustainable business.

Highly skilled talent is very much in demand, and jobs in areas such as engineering, software development and project management are tough to fill. Employers need to become an employer of choice to attract that highly skilled talent, not just someone to fill a seat.

What would you say to employers who say they don’t need to worry about this, and their employees should just be happy to have a job?

The days of command and control are over. If you have an aging work force, you may still be able to function that way, but younger workers are not going to stay with that kind of employer. Also, employers can’t afford to have unhappy employees anymore. In today’s world of social media, word travels fast, and potential employees are more knowledgeable than ever about which companies are the best ones to work for.

In addition to the loss of benefits the companies can realize by becoming an employer of choice, companies can also harm themselves by letting dysfunctional work environments go unchecked. Uncooperative, unmotivated and unresponsive employees harm companies in two ways. First is the poor performance that results, but more important is the fact that they affect everyone around them, causing your best employees to leave for better-run and better-managed companies.

By becoming an employer of choice, you will create an environment where your best employees will thrive and that will attract the best and brightest in the market.

Brendan Prebo is executive director at ASG Renaissance. Reach him at (313) 565-4700 or bprebo@asgren.com.

Published in Detroit