Turning Heads

 Six ingredients to becoming an employer of choice.


Most people believe that what is apparent is important, but employers of choice recognize that what is not apparent is most important. Here are the top six lessons learned by employers of choice about the important – but not always apparent – elements of the best places to work.

Managers as coaches

What makes a company a great place to work? The short answer is: good managers.

The manager sets the tone and translates broad corporate initiatives so they make sense to individual employees. He must understand the strengths of each employee and work to fit people into roles where they can excel.

When employees know their boss cares about their opinions and helps them to understand and know themselves, their talents become recognized and applied so that each person brings his best to the workplace. When managers don’t spend the time to develop a relationship with each subordinate, people leave. Having a mediocre manager, who has no idea of what an employee does and doesn’t even try to understand, can be very destructive to a company.

The quality of the boss/worker relationship is a major indicator of the employee’s intentions to remain at the company. That relationship improves when the manager becomes more like a coach, listening and then monitoring the proposed action of the person being coached.

Connection matters

Most people have learned not to listen to what management says but to pay attention only to what is going on around them on a day-to-day basis.

The true structure of the organization is not what is written down on an organizational chart, but what actually occurs as people connect through roles, influence and decision-making processes. The connection and coordination necessary to get things done happens because of productive personal relationships based upon trust and reciprocity. Sharing knowledge and adding value to the organization depends upon the capabilities of workers to informally connect with others.

Understanding and facilitating these relationships, which flow through a web of professional networks and across functional boundaries, allows employees to create productive change. And since competition is a matter of relations, the company’s ability to structure and control the process of securing productive relationships will determine success in the marketplace.

“The best leaders build the ‘social capital’ of their organizations,” says Dr. Wayne Baker, author of Achieving Success Through Social Capital (Jossey-Bass, 2000). “They enable their people to build the business and personal networks they need to thrive in the New Economy.”

Credibility and attraction

If you build your organization’s credibility, word-of-mouth will spread this reality, and new employees will come to you. Building a corporate reputation by focusing on serving customers, having high quality products/services, and attracting, developing and retaining talented people is critically important.

Your company’s targeted audiences pay attention to the promises that your executives make and keep. Corporate words and actions have a dramatic impact on how companies are perceived by prospective employees. People are concerned how the positive or negative impact of the work environment will affect who they are and who they want to become.

All behavior is sensitive to environmental cues. Employee capabilities tend to change positively in a good work environment. Because management shapes the work environment, it is management who decides whether to make the organization an employer of choice through continuously implementing small improvements.

Measuring people power

Is your company the best place for the best people to work?

Senior executives in the “Most Admired Companies” (surveyed annually by the Hay Group [haygroup.com] for Fortune magazine [fortune.com]) believe in and use employee-based measurements to encourage cooperation and collaboration. And 40 percent of those companies chart retention, career development and other employee-oriented measurements. That’s more than triple the percentage of companies that didn’t make the list.

The companies on this “Most Admired Companies” list have leadership “who understand what performance measurement is all about,” says Hay Group managing director Vicky Wright. “It’s about learning how to motivate people – how to link those performance measures with real rewards.”

Diagnostic self-assessment is a well-established tool for measuring people power by helping individuals accept the need to change. “Most Admired Companies” use some combination of personal assessments:

“Who am I?” – assessments that allow the individual to look inward to better understand his personality, interests and talents

“How do others see me?” – assessments where people who work with the individual provide structured and anonymous input about the person’s on-the-job competencies

“How do I relate to others?” – assessments that describe and profile the individual’s network of relationships

Assessment tools help generate reliable feedback, identify critical behaviors for success, and provide direction for customized development planning. Diagnostic self-evaluation supports a key premise of social learning theory that feedback is a necessary component for learning new behaviors.

Bridging quitting moments

Reorganizations, changing leadership and procedural changes happen almost weekly, and the ripple effects can turn a job once loved into a job now hated. It’s easy to be an outstanding performer when you’re doing work that interests you and fulfills your inner motivations. It’s tougher to perform well when there is a mismatch between you and your job.

Employees and employers don’t always recognize the warning signs of impending job trouble. Clues usually show up before an actual blowup erupts, but workers are often slow to admit, even to themselves, when a problem is brewing. Perhaps, the qualities that first attracted the employee to the position no longer exist, or the employee has outgrown the assignment. The problem may even rest with the boss or the changed work environment.

All employees have quitting moments when they entertain thoughts of leaving. Employees are more likely to leave because they want to do new things and take on more responsibility. Yet, employers frequently fail to create those challenges because they don’t know the employee’s capabilities.

One of the best ways to guard against employee disconnect is to implement a process of providing and receiving feedback to and from the employee. Having an up-to-date individual development plan and access to nontechnical skills training also helps to keep the manager and employee on the same page.

Probably the most important factors in keeping talented people is to create a way for employees to feel excited by the work and to know that they are learning valuable skills. The quality of the boss/subordinate relationship, supported by viable performance management systems, helps employees get through those times when someone comes along with a new job offer.

The law of reciprocity

Employers of choice know that ordinary people don’t change that much, yet the power of a positive corporate culture can help them achieve extraordinary success.

Their employees know that hard work is part of the bargain of joining an employer of choice. But they also know they will not have to fight obstacles and insecurities alone because they will be surrounded with positive ideas and role models.

Employees believe the company will treat them fairly, will consider their needs and interests, and will share financial success with them. These loyal employees attract like-minded job candidates by telling others within their personal networks. Employers of choice leverage this attraction by providing employee referral incentive programs to reward good employees for bringing other good people on board.


John G. Agno, President of Signature, Inc. in Ann Arbor, MI, is a certified executive & business coach

Copyright 2001 by Quantum Communications, Inc., 1493 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 303, McLean, VA 22101. Reprinted from IT Recruiter Magazine.

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