A client recently sent me an article describing a new book published by Craig Wilson, formerly of Patagonia that piqued my interest. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes-

"Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse while all the others were making ships."

                                                                   Charles Simic

Wilson's premise is that truly great brands create and sustain a set of values that resonates with a specific audience of consumers. Although he is speaking of marketing products I think the metaphor carries well into the employment environment as well.

We are hearing a lot these days about a couple of concepts that while they aren’t rocket science have yet to really take hold in the employment environment, the concepts I am alluding to are employee engagement and employment branding.

Engagement especially is taking some pretty good shots even though there is compelling evidence that highly engaged employees and highly engaged organizations outperform their competition in every key metric area. Wilson would probably say, and I would agree, that the reason that so many engagement initiatives are failing is because we are attempting to use analytics to drive the change rather than as a tactic to measure alignment.

Engagement is about much more than conducting a survey. You actually have to identify the areas where you (the company) and your stakeholders are not aligned and address them. Taking surveys without action is just poking your stakeholders, especially your employees in the eye.

I think the same issue exists with the emerging concept of employment branding. Wilson states, “Consumers are individuals and when given an opportunity to consider who they are buying from and what the people they buy from believe and their role in that equation they will choose beliefs over other attributes.”

There is no question in my mind that at least the emerging generations are starting to apply this same methodology to their employment decisions.

Yes there continues to be unemployment, but the top end of the talent pyramid is becoming increasing more selective about whom they rent their behavior to.

I say rent their behavior because that is the new employment paradigm. Although employment at will has been around for years the balance and the mindset have historically been tilted toward the employer. Many employers still pine for the days of Frederick W. Taylor when employees would just be obedient and do what they are told. Sorry folks that is dead as the 8 track tape.

Marc Levinson of the Wall Street Journal who reviewed Wilson’s book had some caustic comments which I don’t entirely disagree with, but I think to throw the entire premise out is a mistake.

The Millennial now represents the emerging majority of the talent in the workplace and they see things both differently and more clearly than most of the past generations.

I am not in the group who finds them lazy, disaffected and unrealistic. I think they see the world and employment through a different lens and context then I did when I entered the workforce and theirs may be more accurate, it is certainly better balanced.

For those of you who find the idea of identifying true north to be overly esoteric and inappropriate for the for profit world I would submit organizations like Zappo’s, Starbucks, Apple, and others who seem to have managed to bring the model to the market quite successfully.

Values plus value works. I have seen it and built it into my own employment models so my recommendation is that as you formulate your business strategy focus on defining your true north and make sure it is well represented in all of your critical strategies from business development to talent acquisition and retention and remember that while data analytics are a great tool, they are a tool in support of a larger initiative, not the initiative itself…….


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