“I don’t know where I’m going but I promise it won’t be boring.” – David Bowie, British singer/composer, actor, producer, painter

Most companies say that people are their greatest asset, but if you look at the way they approach their policies, procedures and thinking, you would conclude that, really, their customers are.

Look at the typical strategic planning most companies do. There’s a lot of talk about strategy and marketing – and it’s almost exclusively about getting more key clients. They fail to think the same way when it comes to attracting the best employees.

So many people miss the opportunity, when growing a company, to take the same strategic approach for talented employees – and to recognize that, just as every organization appeals to a particular type of customer, only a certain type of employee will really thrive in your environment…

It gets down to articulating your employee culture and employee promise.

Your Unique Offering

In many strategic planning sessions, executives put a lot of energy into talking about talent management, retention and development. And when it comes to culture, many organizations invest heavily to make their company an amazing place to work. But they won’t get the return on those investments if they miss asking what they uniquely offer that makes people just thrilled to work there – and then fail to articulate and tell the story of the amazing environment they have built.

Otherwise, in theory, someone considered an A player will be hired, but he or she won’t thrive because what they hope to get out of the job may be different to what you offer.

Promises Made and Kept

A great example comes from my client ProService Hawaii. As the largest and most experienced provider of HR solutions in Hawaii, they are passionate about empowering employers to succeed.

In one of our strategic planning sessions, we were doing some work to figure out what they distinctly offer their clients in the marketplace – what we would call their Customer Promise – when we had an insight. What we really needed to figure out was what they offered their employees that made it an exciting place, for their version of an A player – and what made it a dreadful place for those who didn’t love to be part of the company.

The fascinating thing about ProService Hawaii is that, a number of years ago, they made a commitment to dramatically increase the level of talent in the organization. At ProService Hawaii an A player is someone who consistently delivers on everything they commit to, finds ways to solve problems and break through blockades, needs little management, and fits with core values that are a key part of their culture. Under initial assessment they were at ___% of A players.

After we finished the exercise they had an epiphany! It was so simple and obvious: of course that’s why some people love it there and some don’t – even the highly capable. ProService Hawaii offers a different type of opportunity than a traditional company. (They also realized that there are only a certain sub-section of people who would thrive in that environment. And, because they’re based on a relaxed resort island, there is an even smaller sub-section of the population available.)

And so, after a series of iterations, they came up with three clear Employee Promises:

  • Great opportunities to make your mark & effect change
  • Freedom to grow
  • A “PROhana” made up of amazing people

For those who seize the potential, a career at ProService Hawaii can be a game changer.

You chart the course for your development.

You’ll partner with A-players like yourself who continuously push the bar higher.

Stacking the Deck

After implementing a methodology called Top Grading – which is designed to figure out how to hire onlyyour version of an A player – ProService Hawaii’s A player work force is now at __%. Most companies today, under the same scrutiny, would come out at 25% – so they really stacked the deck of high performing talent.

Since then this system is used in all of their recruiting, and reinforced with their existing team. Although it was kind of understood, it wasn’t always clear enough. As a result, they didn’t always stick to those promises – and sometimes it undermined them. Now work is being done to strengthen each of those promises.

We didn’t invent something new, or come up with clever marketing slogan. It simply boiled down to knowing the intrinsic benefit people get working for the company – to make sure that what they want, and expect, is there. It’s about discovering what is already there, representing it accurately, and making it stronger.

When you get as strategic with employees as you are with customers, things get really exciting.