By Frank J. Rich
It is often said that those who defend everything stand for nothing. It’s another version of the logical conundrum so common among the PC crowd – “there are no absolutes.” Clearly, the logic comes apart when you consider that the absence of absolutes reveals the presence of one.
You have heard me talk about the purpose and value in the concept of “a single organizing idea.” It’s a form of patterning that builds momentum around something of value. After all, it is “something of value” that everyone seeks, and they’d like to pay as little as possible for it. That’s what increases the value. It’s an old idea; what the military calls a “battle cry,” and trancendentalist’s call a mantra. It’s what organizations may call their DNA – the characteristic way in which they behave. And it is this unique quality that is necessary to driving a unified approach to the marketplace, that which qualifies all great organizations. While the terms may be variously familiar to you, the concept of a single organizing ideal (in this case) is the rallying pole around which great organizations find the energy necessary to achievement. Not coincidentally, it also forms the basis of the value proposition that attracts the best people.
Recent work by Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at Londe-Business School and the author of Hot Spots: Why Some Teams, Workplaces, and Organizations Buzz with Energy – and Others Don’t (Berner.-Koehler, 2007), forms the phrase “signature experience” to crystallize the attitude and mood of those focused few that make things happen. In her words, every company needs one, and it can dramatically improve employee engagement and performance.
But what do organizations do to attract and retain good people and qualified customers -the lifeblood of market organizations? Too often, they attempt to match competitors’ offers, warranting compensation schemes, benefits, development opportunities, and other talent amenities that are competitive. While useful in attracting people, the strategy fails to pre-qualify the best candidates – those enthusiastic about their work and intensely loyal to the organization and its mission. This requires more than the minimum requirements of good pay, benefits, and interesting tasks; more importantly, it requires an understanding of the unique history and values and beliefs of the individual, and his attitudes concerning work. They are more likely to become engaged, enthusiastic employees when their preferences and desires blend well with those of the organization.
A new hire might find different models of integration at each organization of interest. For example, the candidate might work on a number of fast-paced, creative projects during his first months, under close scrutiny of management. Afterwards, he’d be expected to find (or create) a project that matched his skills. This is a very creative approach to extracting the most from the best, but is confusing to average performers who may need more direction.
In another organization, the candidate might have intensive training for one-to-three months, learning how the organization performs its business; after that, he would apprentice with one of the strongest performers. Management would decide his fate after peers assessed his potential. While none of these initiations is better than the other, the attempt is to match the candidate to the program that is most like the way he sees himself; that which most closely resembles his values, work attitudes, and skills training. If he’s comfortable with risk and ambiguity, he might enjoy the challenges and the pace of the first company, but dislike the constraints of the second.
These examples underscore the importance of employee preferences in the search for talent, but they are too often overlooked. What makes good organizations great is their ability to attract and retain the right people – those who are excited by what they do and where they do it. This group is more likely to be engaged in their work and less keyed on money and benefits, because they will find ways to satisfy their own requirements and desires while meeting the organization’s needs for creative and productive business solutions. The commitment of “engaged employees“ is contagious, infecting customers and other employees. They are the productive foundations of long-term employ ability, and the EVP (employee value proposition) that great organizations seek.