Company culture attracts talent

Improving on competitors' offers to attract talented employees may not be the best way to find the right people, according to a five-year study. It's all about something called a 'signature experience'.

by Harvard Business Review
Last Updated: 20 Feb 2015

Companies have different histories and values and may attract people who feel affinity to them, rather than just because they pay more or offer better benefits.

Pay and benefits matter, but the choice of job and engagement and commitment at work depends on the coincidence of an individual's preferences and aspirations with those of the organisation.

Unfortunately employee preferences get overlooked often. What makes companies great is attracting the people who are excited about what the company is doing and are attracted to the working environment. Thus, they are more likely to engage with the work, while less likely to be overly focused on benefits or salary. As a result they are most likely to be productive for the long term. Their commitment can be contagious, affecting customers and potential employees too.

What makes a company unique in the parlance of human resources is the 'signature experience' that tells the right story about a company. A signature experience is a "visible, distinctive element of an organisation's overall employee experience". That can be a bundle of routines that are hard to imitate as they arise from company heritage and leadership ethos.

The signature experience concept grew out of organisational research conducted by Tamara Erickson and Lynda Gratton over five years. Having studied what companies with engaged workforces did to foster commitment, enthusiasm and mission-aware employees the results, surprisingly, showed there was no one template, but in fact huge variations in what companies did.

This led to the conclusion that rather than this being a quirk, the variations was the key to what made the companies unique. Such companies "know their current and future employees as well as most companies know their current and future customers". These companies know that not everyone would want to work for them - but those that do are attracted for the right reasons.

The article includes several examples of 'signature experiences', such as employee teams at Whole Foods Market in Texas, who choose which employees get to join their group. Bonuses to employees are paid to the group based on group performance, rather than to individuals. This shows the values of the company are collaboration and decentralisation.

It also encourages the group to choose productive members, and may help explain the company's nine years in Fortune's list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. It is only one example of a 'signature experience' that Erickson and Gratton identified.

The differences are down to the fact that, according to the research, people have very different criteria for who they want to work for: social connections at work; making money; risk-taking or structured career ladder, to name some. Firms that have engaged workforces address these preferences more effectively than other companies.

Source: What it means to work here, Tamara J Erickson and Lynda Gratton
Harvard Business Review, March 2007

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