The War for Talent in China: Pride and Passion (Conclusion)

To conclude this series, I would like to address the last element, Pride of Belonging.

Apple customers lining up outside the NYC 5th Avenue store

Building pride of belonging

This last element, pride of belonging, refers to the reaction person gets from family and friends by working at a respected organization. That respect may come from many sources:

The high quality of its product or service;

The strong reputation of its management and the high standards placed on every employee from top to bottom;

Its prospects for both growth and stability;

The transparency and fairness of its management;

The quality of its people development methods.

Both Chinese firms and multi-nationals operating in China can build or lose their reputation on these dimensions, and once lost it is very hard to re-build. But if they are built and maintained, they are a tremendous asset for an organization and very difficult for competitors to break or copy.

What a company wants to do is pass what I call the “Mother and best friends” test: that when you offer a person a job at your company their mother is proud and their best friends are envious.

Here is my example. In 1984 my mother died of cancer. She fought for several years but near the last year I think she stayed alive so that she could see me graduate from university and to get my first job. In early August I received a job offer from IBM, which was a very prestigious company, especially in those days. She passed away just a week later but I know she was happy to see that I was off to a good start in life and proud of that accomplishment.

Pseudo-engagement of Employees versus The Real Thing

“Engaging” one’s workforce has become a cliché in many respects. People use the word, launch programs in organizations, and design metrics. But engagement, in my opinion, is not a thing in itself, not something you can create out of thin air. Engagement, or simple old-fashioned pride in belonging to an organization, is the result of many things, all of which must be authentic and naturally flowing from what the organization does and how it does it over an extended period of time.

Today, I think it is fair to say that many, if not most, of the people working at Apple are proud to say they work at Apple and proud of the products they make. This is not because they have programs or metrics for engagement (I’ve never worked there so maybe they have that stuff or maybe they don’t) but because of the quality and integrity of the products they make and the way they go about making them.

Engagement, pride of association, whatever you wish to call it, flows from what a company does and how it does it. As such, it is tremendously hard to achieve genuine pride of belonging but it is a priceless asset for recruiting and retention of good people if you can establish it. On the other hand, if an organization starts to cut corners or take cynical short-cuts, then employees will pick up on this quickly and unless the mistake is admitted and corrected quickly, then pride of association will rapidly mutate into a transactional relationship, that is, “I’ll give my effort only because this is currently the best financial play for me, but the minute I’m offered a better package, I’m out of here.” Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a better financial package. If an organization becomes sufficiently dis-engaging to employees people will often leave just to escape a toxic work environment.

Employees are the brand

To the extent you have products or services that employees are proud to represent, this helps not only with recruiting and retaining talent, but also in further strengthening your brand as each employee becomes a passionate representative of the products and the organization.

In an article on “Brand Channel,” William Arruda wrote:

Many companies are harnessing the brand-building value of their employees. They are giving employees the permission (and in some cases, the mandate) to communicate about the corporate brand via the social media. They understand that they have as many brand assets as they have employees.

Companies are developing a greater understanding of how their employees can contribute to the corporate brand and are getting much more comfortable with their employees’ increased visibility and responsibility for expressing the brand. Sure, the marketing department is the most connected to brand mission and has the responsibility to increase brand value. But others in the organization, further removed from the branding strategy, need, at the very least, a general awareness of the corporate brand and what it stands for. If brands are to be built by the consistent expression of the brand promise through every action and interaction – branding executives must look at the impact of employee actions and communications on the value of the brand.

Branding executives need to engage each employee – asking them to build the brand of the company in a way that is authentic to them. This is where corporate branding meets personal branding. When all employees understand the corporate brand and are given the task of building the brand in their own way, they are empowered, engaged and activated.

During lean times, talent is often viewed as a liability, not as an asset. Even as companies cut costs across the board, savvy organizations are investing in their talent – understanding the impact it will have on the corporate brand. According to the 2008 Bersin and Associates Leadership Development Survey, 40% of organizations polled said their spending on leadership development has remained the same and 36% said their budgets were slated to increase this year.

It’s no wonder when you look at the benefit of engaged employees who understand the brand. Committed employees stay at your company longer, work harder and deliver on-brand work every day. So with reduced marketing and branding budgets, harnessing the power of your employees to build the brand is a cost-effective strategy for bolstering the brand. Once your brand is clear in the minds and hearts of these important assets, they become your brand ambassadors and go off steadfastly in support of your mission.

When viewed through the lens of branding, The War for Talent merges with The War for the Consumer; building a genuine pride of association with a brand drives pride of belonging not only for current and prospective employees, but for consumers as well. Indeed, when it is done right, the employee and consumer melds into one. To quote Steve Jobs about the creation of the first iPod: “We made the iPod for ourselves and for our friends. We made it the way we would want it if we were buying for yourselves. That’s why we cared so much and it’s also why you must have people who care about music making that kind of product, otherwise you’ll just get a cynical piece of crap.”

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