The war for talent is real.
Professionals today are permanent free agents, with options all across the globe. That means attracting them and keeping them engaged is more important than ever — having highly focused and engaged employees keeps the company moving at a healthy pace and reduces churn.
This truth puts a premium on building a culture that attracts the talent you’re looking for — whether that culture includes an unlimited vacation policy and free lunch, or some other employee empowerment or ownership program.
At the heart of how you do this is your brand. Not your logo, but the story of your company. The story of your company involves your guiding principles, how you make a difference in your marketplace. In short, what you stand for and why you matter. As Ben Horowitz of Silicon Valley VC firm Andreessen Horowitz says, “your story is your strategy.” It should inform everything you do.
In the best organizations, everyone on the team believes in the story. They tell it to each other, to customers and to people they meet at cocktail parties.
And in struggling organizations, everyone tells a different story. They say things like, “my boss sucks,” “work is crazy,” or “we have no direction.” You know it. You’ve heard it. You’ve read it on Glassdoor. You may have even been somewhere before where you said it.
These disgruntled employees are brand ambassadors, and the negative messages they carry to their networks can damage your company. They’re carrying the story of your company across social media and throughout the market. When you have the wrong people in the wrong seats, the wrong story is going to get spread far and wide.
Now, when a company talks about brand ambassadors, they’re almost surely thinking about the effervescent stars of the company. The people that love XYZ Corp, and love to talk about how much they love it. Sometimes, it’s someone who has specifically been hired to shine a positive light on your brand.
The opportunity is to build a culture that your team believes in, and to craft a story that is credible and resonates.
But the reality is that, today, everyone is a messenger, and people share things they’re passionate about — politics, sports, loved ones … and work. Gulp. Everyone can tell the world exactly what they’re thinking, whenever they want. When you’re helping to run and grow a business, that’s both an opportunity and a threat.
The opportunity is to build a culture that your team believes in, and to craft a story that is credible and resonates. This needs to be a truth-seeking exercise — if you come up with nice-sounding-but-not-really-accurate values and a story about how your SaaS company is making the world a better place, it’s going to fall flat. We’ve all seen organizations that claim they stand for one thing and then spend every waking moment contradicting their supposed values. When you misfire like that, it’s an impossible obstacle to overcome — you lose credibility internally, and that internal confusion quickly finds its way to outside audiences — i.e. your customers.
In “Good to Great,” one of the defining characteristics of the companies Jim Collins highlights is that they know who and what they are. Top management knows it, and that self-knowledge permeates the entire organization.
Doing this well requires continual effort. It starts with new employee orientation and, when done well, continues on a near daily basis. You need to talk about your values in daily meetings, whether that’s three people gathering to discuss Project X or an all-hands gathering. Consider creating a culture deck that becomes a go-to digital document for all team members. Go beyond honoring the salespeople who beat goal and recognize employees who live the values in a meaningful way. And when making strategic moves, top management needs to consider those values and your What You Stand For.
This is your brand. It’s a story that people believe in, one that informs everything you do. Get it right, and your business can make the leap. Get it wrong, and you’re stuck.
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