Businesses used to rush to corner up all available resources so that competitors are left out in the cold. These resources are finite and can be shipped from countries to countries. In stark contrast, the resource that companies compete on today is innovation. So instead of extracting finite resources, they organise themselves around their talent.

“Staying ahead in business is now all about finding new ways to attract and inspire an innovative workforce.” 

So the question every HR person must ask is this; Given the amount of opportunity in the (insert your industry here) space, why would a talented worker choose your company? The short answer is; employer branding. Talk of ‘jobs and security’ has been replaced with ‘talent and opportunity’. And as the war for talent increases, companies must define and continually refine their employer branding strategy. 

What makes a company a great place to work? 
It’s people that make the business. So a company’s reputation as an employer, or employer branding, is a top priority for human resources and management. A great place to work upholds key principles including employee autonomy, business transparency, and bold leadership. But most of all a great pace to work provides a nourishing company culture. ( We will explore the topic of how to deal with bad employer review in the next post).

Funnily enough, human resources have always been a marketing function (see our early post on this subject) — it just hasn’t always acted like it. The role of the HR professional is not to promote a job but to sell the company DNA (the product) to the most fitting candidate (the consumer).

As Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix puts it, “Good talent managers think like business people and innovators first, and like HR people last.” Today it’s not uncommon to hear of ‘People and Culture’ teams parading as the new HR. These folks work tirelessly on culture including on-boarding, training and professional development, events, rewards and benefits, mentorship, 360 feedback, off-boarding — the big and little things that in sum make for an attractive place to work.

It’s no small feat to get employer branding right. Nearly 40% of finance leaders surveyed by Deloitte said they are either “barely able” or “unable” to meet their organization’s demand for talent.

Creative Consultant Jeff Wasiluk explains why many HR professionals are scratching their heads when it comes to staffing up their organizations: Companies want misfits, yet they want to hire them the old-fashioned way“Companies want revolutionaries, yet they want their most conservative leaders to identify them.” 

The most progressive companies should be asking themselves questions like:

  •     What conversations are taking place between our workers? What are former employees saying?
  •     What specific functions (not jobs) do we need done and how can we resource them in the smartest and most agile way?
  •     Is the traditional 40-hour week the optimum way to empower our workers, and more importantly, engage them in being productive and doing their best work?
  •     Do dynamic and fluid talent networks provide a viable solution to meet some or all of our needs?

By becoming more flexible and open minded, companies can come closer to accommodating what top talent want; a sense of being needed, an ability to really contribute, opportunities for continuous learning, and yes, competitive compensation too. If an organization’s greatest asset is its talent, then the most important tool is its ability to empower people. 

Cultivating culture
The single most important focus you can have is fostering a top-tier culture and experience for existing employees. In so doing, they will do the marketing for you. 

Happy workers will boast to others about their workplace and this is by far the most attractive tool for recruiting future candidates.

It’s crucial to focus on the who first and then the what. As author Jim Collins puts it, “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats, and then figure out where to drive.” This style of leadership is the one that will win in today’s economy. And good leadership not only helps define your brand but has a cascading effect on developing a dynamic company culture.

Championing the cause
A company must tell a true and compelling story if it hopes to excite candidates and attract the talent they seek. They must also constantly work on improving their culture in order to keep their current talent. Leading the way are companies that are ditching resumes in favor of love letters or even observing behavior outside of the office (like Zappos). And of course, there is one company that always looks at discerning a given candidate’s Googleyness. 

Getting it right
One of the best recruiting mechanisms among tech companies in the past years was not some ubiquitous advertisement or over-the-top perk. Nor was it an obscene starting salary. It was the ‘Freedom & Responsibility’ culture deck from Netflix. With over 17 million views, it has become the benchmark for how a company lives its values.

Netflix is obsessed with developing a nourishing culture where employees choose to work. They also don’t tolerate bros and or brilliant jerks. CEO Reid Hasting’s tells his managers to ask themselves, “Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight hard to keep?”

Yes, Netflix may have unlimited vacation days and a radical expense policy (act in Netflix’s best interest), but above anything, they provide a basic psychological need: autonomy. Giving employees the choice to work when, where, and how they want helps boost intrinsic motivation. It also signifies high levels of trust and increases employee loyalty.

According to research by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, experiencing choice is itself energizing and essential for well-being. It can also help employees succeed in goals outside of the office which are increasingly relevant as the lines between life and work converge. It’s incredible how businesses can flourish when they simply treat people like adults. 

It’s a matter of interest
Google founder Sergey Brin asks job candidates, “Teach me something I don’t know.” Responses show not just how candidates handle unanticipated situations but allow for their passion and interests to shine. And when Google Labs was looking to recruit the world’s best engineers they took out ad space at Harvard Square — a commuter gateway to the world’s top schools. The huge banners read: {first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com. There was no Google branding whatsoever. When the shrewdest of students solved the equation (the answer:, they were welcomed with this greeting at the website:

Congratulations. Nice work. Well done. Mazel tov. You’ve made it to Google Labs and we are glad you are here. One thing we learned while building Google is that it’s easier to find what you’re looking for if it comes looking for you. What we’re looking for are the best engineers in the world. And here you are.

Reid Hoffman, founder of Linkedin is forthright in interviews and asks candidates flat out, “What are your plans after LinkedIn?” Acknowledging this reality up front can help foster trust and better alignment. The most forward thinking companies are careful to off-board employees by helping them move into their next career move. Some organizations like Innocent Drinks are also notorious for seed funding former employee’s startups. 

Taking a more expansive view of talent and the opportunities you provide to help workers thrive is what’s required. It’s crucial that you provide employees with:

Choice — emphasize flexible working arrangements that allow your employees to have control over how they work. This will demonstrate that your aim is to empower and not diminish.

Respect — it’s shocking how many workplaces don’t have integrity. Employees that aren’t respected will not show goodwill and eventually will leave.

Challenges — if you want to attract the best of the best, appreciate they are going to want a meaty challenge that goes beyond the paycheck. Be sure to express that your culture is a place where experimentation is encouraged and failure is rewarded. It’s really the only way you will innovate with your people and enable your workers to flourish.