Employers: why should anyone work for you??

The provocative headline is adapted from the title of the book (and lecture in Dublin last year) “Why should anyone work here?” by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones of London Business School. The book draws on their research of many well-known firms in the quest for the perfect organisation.

The findings are thought-provoking for both business owners/managers and HR professionals struggling with recruitment or retention strategies in a tight skills market. They might take a few minutes out (perhaps with a Carlsberg) to ask themselves this:  what would the best company on earth to work for look like?

In basic terms, that company would …

  • Let people be themselves
  • Practice radical honesty
  • Magnify people’s strengths
  • Stand for authenticity, rather than shareholder value
  • Make work meaningful
  • Make simple rules

That’s a lot to live up to. No one aspiration is more important than another, but let’s look at two which are close to any HR Manager’s heart – magnifying people’s strengths and making work meaningful.

According to the authors, maximising employee strengths isn’t just about getting the most for the organisation … it’s about adding extra value for them and their personal development. They suggest you don’t just concentrate on star performers but help your average employees to grow too. “For too long HR departments have been obsessed with high-potential employees (HiPos).” Another common failing is to overemphasise technical ability and ignore human competencies. The authors point out that high performance is rarely achieved without the cooperation of others. Human skills are prioritised only when someone takes on a managerial role – too late!

For meaningful work, read the three Cs – connections, community and cause. “Employees need to know how their work connects to others’ work” – that means getting rid of silos.  They need a workplace that promotes a sense of belonging.  And they need to know their work contributes to a goal that is bigger and longer term than the shareholders’ quarterly demands. Efforts at encouraging engagement will prove fleeting and ineffective unless these three issues are addressed first.

Attracting the best talent means re-imagining the workplace and making yours stand out from the pack. Ticking the boxes of the authors’ checklist may sound daunting, but take heart from the fact that most employers, among them many supposed bluechips, fail miserably to do so. And sooner or later their talent will ask the question: “Why should I work for you?”