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by Laurie Murphy | March 10, 2009

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We are living through some very challenging and chaotic times for organizations as well as individuals. During times like these, organizations' needs for achieving competitiveness and individuals' needs for achieving a greater sense of career resiliency as well as balance, purpose and meaningfulness in their lives become increasingly important. It is a particularly appropriate time for reflecting on what people want and need most from their work, how organizations can impact people accordingly through their management and employment practices and, ultimately, impact organizational results and competitiveness.

Caring About Employees' Concerns
Now, more than ever, many people perceive their life experiences as increasingly frenetic and uncertain, and recent studies show that about half of U.S. workers are not satisfied with their jobs. Many seek a stronger sense of inclusion, connection and control at work, and want to feel more valued and cared about by their managers. Individuals also expect greater flexibility to allow them to achieve desired levels of work/life balance and personal satisfaction.

Identifying and addressing employees' most important concerns is something that all business leaders and managers need to hold themselves accountable for. This should not be left mainly or solely to the Human Resource department to deal with, as employees need to feel genuine caring and concern from all leaders, especially from their immediate managers (in addition to HR). When that feeling is lacking, employees quickly become dissatisfied, and productivity and business results suffer.

Surveys conducted by The Gallup Organization indicate that employees' feelings as to whether their organizations care about them correlate with their levels of "engagement" and "disengagement" at work. Gallup calculated that, on average, 14-19 percent of U.S. employees reported being "actively disengaged, or fundamentally checked out" over the past two years, and this level of disengagement has resulted in lost productivity and other costs to U.S. businesses/economy amounting to approximately $300 billion annually. Generally, employees who feel their manager/employer cares about their needs tend to report higher levels of engagement, and the companies with higher levels of employee engagement also benefit from having higher levels of employee retention, customer retention, organizational growth, market share, and profitability.

Fostering Individual Engagement and Retention
It is clear that fostering employee engagement is a critical competitive advantage. So, how do you do this? The key lies in recognizing and addressing both the commonality and the diversity of employees' needs and motivational factors. It is advisable to focus on addressing important needs common to the majority of employees, however, needs which may be important to smaller numbers of individuals should not be underestimated or overlooked, as they could also be likely to have significant impact on engagement and commitment levels. Individualized approaches are also needed to address employees' varied career goals, work interests, and motivational factors (i.e., what is most desirable, rewarding and meaningful to them about their work, and why). To make effective decisions about how to help each employee identify and achieve career goals and how to match work assignments to employees' individual interests and motivational factors, managers must get to know their employees well. This requires a considerable amount of time, as well as strong competencies in coaching and communication in order for interactions to be most effective in producing desired results.

Surveys repeatedly identify that the quality of communication and relationships between employees and their supervisors/managers ranks high among the most influential factors affecting employees' engagement, commitment, and retention levels. Therefore, organizations should select management staff based on the strength of their existing communication, coaching and relationship building skills, and continue to develop and expand managers' capabilities in these areas in order to maximize performance effectiveness and competitive advantage.

Attracting and Leveraging Diverse Talent
To most effectively attract and meet the needs of increasingly diverse customers, businesses need to attract and leverage diverse talent for employment. Therefore, it is important to examine the needs and interests of prospective customers and employees your company wants to attract, as they may require new and different approaches than the ones currently being pursued.

It is helpful to do some research to identify how your organization is perceived, what employees like and dislike about the company, why employees choose to resign, and what changes your company may need to make. For individuals who have left your company, find out what would have made them stay, and then do something to make it more likely that other employees will stay and that former employees might return to work for your company in the future.

It is also critical to recognize that individuals' decisions about which companies they want to work for are heavily influenced by what they hear about how other people are treated there. The more satisfied current and former employees (and recent job applicants) are regarding their interactions with your company, the more likely they will be to provide positive rather than negative "PR" about the organization. Do you know what people are saying or hearing about your company?

Branding Your Company
Attracting top talent to your company may not happen if not enough people know about the organization and the advantages of working there. Many companies have sufficient budgets and expertise for supporting product/service-related sales and marketing efforts, but few have similarly sufficient budgets and expertise to devote to advertising and marketing their company as an "employer of choice." Employer branding is another critical competency required to distinguish your organization as a favored place to work, so qualified candidates for employment will choose your company instead of your competitors. This is especially necessary for small and mid-size companies that do not possess the "name recognition" that many larger companies are able to leverage to attract the talent they need.

While there are more candidates applying for most jobs today in comparison to a couple of years ago, the best talent is still the most difficult to find, attract and retain because those individuals will always have the greatest number of employment options and companies seeking to hire them. Companies that are able to establish positive employer branding to facilitate attracting top talent will achieve competitive advantage.

Evaluating and Selecting Talent
Research has shown that the majority of bad hires and "unsuccessful employment relationships" result from faulty selection processes, and that employee turnover is extremely costly to organizations. Therefore, more effective employee selection is critical for achieving higher levels of employee performance and retention (and customer satisfaction, market share and profitability).

The criteria and methods your company uses to evaluate and select candidates for hire or promotion should be focused on ensuring new hires "fit" with your organization's culture and work environment, and on supporting customer acquisition and retention. Individuals with high levels of customer focus and service orientation are often the highest performers in companies, regardless of whether they deal directly with external customers in their work. Job applicants who have demonstrated adaptability in their work history and who already possess many of the traits that are necessary for success in your organizational culture will be much more likely to perform well. Examine the traits and competencies of your highest performing employees and develop "spec sheets" identifying those critical success factors to look for in job applicants, so you will select the best candidates and maximize opportunities for individual and organizational success. It is important to note that many of the most critical success factors that high-performers exhibit are not things that are evident from looking at their work history or resumes. Think beyond the realm of education level and work experience, and focus more heavily on the personal qualities and attributes that make the most successful people in your organization so successful. Then, try to hire other people who can demonstrate that they have already exhibited those qualities in their previous work experience. Past performance is one of the strongest predictors of potential future success.

Don't delay start taking steps to enhance your company's competitiveness and sustainability today!

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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