Need to retain employees? Treat them like your customer.
Staff development and retention is top of mind for business leaders in every industry, from manufacturing to professional services. While compensation is important, trying to maintain a stable workforce with only money and benefits is akin to being in an arms race that no one can win. Employees everywhere have shifting workplace expectations, valuing culture, meaning, and personal development as critical as, or often more critical than, economic benefits.
To retain employees, companies will have to re-evaluate how to maintain strong bonds with talent as their talent’s needs and expectations shift. Just as companies invest in their brands to build customer loyalty, organizations must up-level their employer value proposition to keep great talent.
First, companies will need to put a stake in the ground regarding their stance on the future of workplace participation. Specifically, how far will a company go in reinventing its corporate command-and-control structure? Will traditional companies embrace some ‘gig work’ attributes such as alternative or on-demand schedules or new norms for employee participation? Companies need to clearly define and communicate how their workplace strategy matches evolving employee desires, culture, and required productivity levels.
Second, companies will need to refine or clearly define their employer brand promise as talent expectations evolve. The employer brand promise articulates the unique value and experience companies can offer to talent. For example, is the company providing a specific development path not available elsewhere? Are employees able to give back to their communities through their work? Is this a place for type-A strivers, a supportive organization based on family values, or is it able to accommodate a range of personal and professional needs?
Manufacturing giant SC Johnson has a poetic tagline for its employee promise: “Go Further with our Family,” which is underscored by language that exemplifies the ideal team member profile as “Wave Makers and Go-Getters.” SC Johnson is declaring its intention to provide a high-octane career experience grounded by close-knit, family-like culture.
Employees rightfully expect the same consideration and attention as customers, so crafting a brand promise that addresses the intersection of talent and organizational needs is critical.
Finally, as the workplace evolves, companies need to actively craft culture rather than wait for cultural standards and expectations to emerge organically.
No longer desk-bound, employees miss out on positive feedback rituals that were once inherent in the norms of an in-person workplace. With less opportunity to see others at events or in the hallway, team members are more siloed than ever, creating micro-cultures.
To create an authentic culture that unifies talent and reinforces the company purpose, managers must carve out specific, repeatable rituals to communicate values, recognize people, and create cross-team bonding moments that feel natural.
Consider structured ‘random coffees’ with co-workers from other teams, five-minute weekly huddles to highlight individuals for a job well done, end-of-the-week blasts to celebrate milestones, or creative monthly group meetings to inspire talent collectively. For example, at Innovation Protocol, we actively highlight employees who demonstrate our company values at our weekly company meeting, which helps celebrate talent while reinforcing the behavioral practices underpinning our culture.
Employee needs are changing, and workplaces are in a constant state of flux. To best serve talent, companies need to be intentional about creating a work philosophy that balances changing employee needs with organization ambition – in other words, to view employees as a type of “customer” with distinct needs that must be served.