“Great leaders are able to inspire people to act. Those who are able to inspire, give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit. Those who truly lead are able to create a following of people who act, not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired. For those who are inspired, the motivation to act is deeply personal. They act, not because they have to, but because they want to.” – Simon Sinek in Start with Why.
Over my past 12 years in the people business, I’ve spoken with “a few” people who hire or have something to do with a hiring process of a company. Most of them are no different to a normal human being who assumes a bit too much. Heck, I also make assumptions on a daily basis, even though I’ve done a great deal of work in order not to do so. Because of lack of data and our lazy bones we all have perceptions of how we think it is. And because we believe so hard on our assumptions, they become the truth in our minds.
There are some common assumptions in the world of hiring and employer branding:
- We assume everyone loves our company just the way we do
- We assume our company is exceptional and stands out from all other companies without an effort
- We assume people outside our company have a lot of motivation and interest in making the effort of finding out more about us, especially when we make no effort in revealing a whole lot about our company
- We assume it’s an over nighter to become the most attractive employer in our market
- We assume what worked once works always even if we don’t really know why it worked
- We assume if we treat candidates poorly during the hiring process, they will not remember nor care
As Simon Sinek writes, we make both good and bad decisions on false assumptions. When things seem to go right, we assume we have the right recipe and tend to repeat it many times over.
“I have a friend who invests some of his own money. Everytime he does well, it’s because of his brains and his ability to pick up the right stock. Everytime he loses money, he blames the stock market. In reality, either his success and failure hinge upon his own prescience and blindness or they hinge upon good and bad luck. But it cannot be both.” -Simon Sinek-
This same goes for winning or losing in hiring. If we once got a good match with a job advert on our own website does not necessarily mean it will always be enough. Or, if we didn’t, it doesn’t mean our website is a sore channel.
Simon Sinek talks about inspiring people. This message is his calling. His gift for us. Most companies have no idea why their customers are their customers. They sell the same products, the same services, offer the same quality than thousand other companies. From employee perspective, they offer the same jobs, the same perks, the same salary and working hours than the rest. Still some companies are able to attract and inspire the best talents when others struggle.
There are only two ways to influence a person: by manipulating him or inspiring him. Companies manipulate all the time: they drop prices, offer something on the side, they influence our behaviour by appealing to our positive and negative emotions and peer pressure. According to Sinek, this happens especially when companies have no idea why their customers are their customers, or their employees are their employees. “Manipulation works.”
Carrots and sticks of marketing
Companies use carrots and sticks like price, promotions, fear, aspirations and peer pressure in order to manipulate us. Employers use these the same way in the effort of attracting and appealing to the job market. They’re just called other names.
1. Price & promotions aka salary, benefits & perks
Think price as the salary and promotions as the additional perks and benefits offered on the side. These are the most common weapons an employer has in the hiring game. The problem is, some other employer always has a better salary and better perks & benefits to offer. It’s a money game.
Just as you can never win the price game, you can never win in the game of monetary compensations. The minute you attend this game, you’ll be assigned a loser sign on your game shirt. Once an employee starts bargaining you with the salary, he’s most likely testing his market price with other companies too. And if the salary is his most important deciding factor when choosing a new job, be sure to know he’ll go hungry after a while, and if you don’t have food for him, he’ll ask someone else. As Maslow has famously recorded us, once the compensation covers the lowest levels of the hierarchy of needs: the physiologial and safety needs, the compensation is really not the main driver any longer. Yet we like to think it is. Based on many motivational theories, money also loses it’s impact to our satisfaction and motivation in a very short period: 3 months it has been stated by some wise folks. Three months.
2. Fear aka insecurity
Fear makes us make silly decisions. “No one was ever fired for hiring IBM“, is an old saying Simon Sinek uses in his book. It means an employee will not be considered making a bad decision if he purchased services from a well know big brand even if the services were much more expensive, lesser quality and resulted in poorer outcome.
In recruiting the fear of failure controls our decision making. We tend to copy paste old position descriptions, because once in the past someone with this position was good at their job. We tend to base decision making solely in the previous experience and merits, because if a person has once succeeded, he must be a success in the future too. We tend not to try new tactics because the fear of failure with the unknown is bigger than the fear of failure with the worn out ways. At the end, if the hire goes wrong, it wasn’t because of my decision making. We have always done it like this, so the blame must be outside the company and our power.
3. Aspirations aka grand dreams and inspirational stories
So, what do you think about aspirations in the hiring game? Marketeers are good at building up aspirations in campaigns. Aspirational messages do the opposite to fear. Fear makes us want to avoid something, aspirations inspire us to try to do the same, be the same. Aspirational messages manipulate us the exact same way as fear. Aspirational messages work especially when we want to influence those with insecurities, such as unemployed or those soon without a job. But they also work well with recruiting managers who want to do well in their job. It’s easy to purchase an idea, an aspirational response to my need. But like a gym membership, if we just hold it in our pockets, it’s not gonna make us get into any better shape. If you want to succeed in hiring, you have to do things consistently in a better way.
I have been in countless of discussions where the other side has aspired to make The Big Bang with their recruiting or to become the Most Wanted Employer in their market, but not having enough perseverance in really attempting to do so. We become easily inspired with the success stories of other companies be it successful brands or successful employers. We assume a position like that has been achieved with little effort, little investment and over a short period of time. We assume a position like that happens without any pain.
If your company’s aspiration is to step up your HR game, you’re going to have to take different actions you have done before, and most often those will be called long term actions. Yet, we tend to be quickly drawn back into the cheaper, faster and less painful solutions.
4. Peer pressure aka doing the same what your peer companies are doing
“If she does it, it must work.” That’s called peer pressure. There is usually no factual evidence me doing so will work for our company’s situation, but peer pressure is a son of a b****. Peer pressure makes you feel like you’ll be left our if you didn’t follow. And if you are left out, you must be missing on something.
Print advertising in hiring is a great example. So many companies still to date think a job advert in a print is The Solution for hiring challenges. They read through the Sunday paper job classifieds and think it must work because so many companies are still paying their as*** off for today’s news, tomorrows wrapping paper. The right answer is: no it’s not working and yes, it may be working. It depends. But with the variety of means we have today, most often the same investment can be used much wisely.
Just because something was the only tool 15 years ago doesn’t make it the right tool for today or tomorrow. Just because some other company is doing it, doesn’t make it an automatic success for your company’s needs. What if all these folks doing print advertising are just afraid of trying anything else? You don’t know, so you should not make assumptions based on what someone else does. But it’s the peer pressure calling our wits. “Maybe we lose candidates if we don’t“. We won’t. Unless the Sunday paper is the only forum you can reach your candidates.
5. Novelty aka trying out hat tricks
With the era of technology and social media, we have so many new opportunities to spruce up our hiring and employer branding game. The leading innovators in the market introduce us to exciting tactis all the time, and the followers would like to rob the bank at one go. Any idea that is merely an added feature to the existing means is not an innovation. Added features differentiate us for a while, but they seldom produce long term value. Soon the next company adds the same features, and you’ll find yourself in a similar game to the price game: you need to keep adding new tricks to your game to stay ahead. It wears you out.
Recruitment marketing makes no difference. The same tricks will not last forever, they dry out when they become commodities. You have to enter the tiresome competition of innovating new tricks over and over again. To this date still, the content of the job adverts are usually so identical that you can just change the company logo on the top, and the same copy text would still be valid. The traditional copy has become a commodity. It does little favors to companies to stand out from the crowd. Yet, for insecurity reasons we keep sticking to it.
Same goes for employer branding, which still to this date seems to be focused around cooperation with students at colleges and universities (at least in Finland). While this is a great audience to be influenced, everyone is doing it and everyone is using the same tricks. Regardless if the students are even in their immediate target audience or not. It has become a commodity and the students no longer pay attention.
We are manipulated by our assumptions, aspirations, novelty trics, fear and peer pressure. Manipulations do work, but only in the short term. We need to dig our pockets deeper and deeper to influence this short term behaviour. We can offer new employees more money and better benefits than the next company, but once we open the wallet, they’ll come asking for more. Because they think this is the game you play. We can copy what “everyone else does” or continue to do “how we’ve always done it”, but maintaining the status quo will usually keep the gains the same: out of good or bad luck or out of prescience and blindness. We can add features to our practises which may result in short term deliveries, but we have to keep delivering new tricks on the side to stay ahead of the game.
Or we can choose to inspire: build a company culture that impacts our current and future employees, and use this source of inspiration as our main hiring tool to breed loyalty. We can learn to be different.
If we want to succeed in recruiting, we have to think: are we going to keep hiring in the long term, and are we hiring a lot of people? Or is this merely a rare case of adding one person on board? More like a single transaction. When we need to influence our target audience, our talent customers in the long run, we have to start building a pattern that breeds loyalty towards our company. If we are going to hire one person now, and probably not another person over the next few years, there is no point in investing in employer branding schemes (loyalty schemes in marketing terms). Like Simon Sinek puts it: “Carrots and sticks work just fine for transactions occuring on the average just once, but if you want to build lasting relationships, you have to inspire people.”
When there is no money for repeating manipulative tactics, not having employer brand spokes people and followers is going to hurt you. To make assumptions is not going to help you either. In practice, if your company is a growth company and your growth relies on people, building an inspiring culture connecting with your business strategy is the starting point. Then using that culture to inspire people inside and outside the company should be your main course of action. You can then leverage your culture strategy with various tactical short term and long term actions that all reinforce the same story and the same experiences, and grow the number of your faithful followers. Because they will be there when you need them (for recruiting). Just like your loyal friends.