Becoming an Employer of Choice

Posted in : HR Updates on 3 March 2020
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

How do we become an Employer of Choice? This is the million-dollar question that many employers ask. Some of us are on a journey towards becoming this; others already there and the rest possibly don’t even know what it is.

For those of us that aspire to be a great place to work, here are my essential ingredients in helping you along the way:

Start with Why

In the words of Simon Sinek in his famous TED Talk, ‘Start with Why’, “It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters why you do it.” The first step in becoming an Employer of Choice is to decide why we want to become one in the first place. If it is merely to fulfil the demands of HR or as a tick-box exercise for a quality standard, then any attempts to create a fantastic work culture are likely to fail.  Employees will sniff out anything disingenuous from a mile off.  What’s more, disillusioned staff can quickly become disengaged, resentful and play their part in creating a toxic environment.  Too far down the road and any attempts to remedy this may be fruitless.

The desire to become an Employer of Choice must be driven by genuine philanthropic aspirations to create an engaged workforce where people come to work, not because they have to, but because they want to.  It’s about a culture where everyone does their best work and are passionate about the vision, values and purpose of the organisation.  We need to know what our organisation’s purpose is and that goes well beyond your product or service offering.  Nothing demonstrates this better than the story of the janitor in NASA when President JFK asked him what he was doing, and the janitor replied. “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”  The janitor got it.  He understood the vision, his part in it, and he had purpose. He got the bigger picture. When an entire workforce buys into that, amazing things can happen.  Having recently visited the Kennedy Space Centre I was aware of the real sense of common purpose among staff there. A must-see for anyone visiting Florida any time soon!

Buy-in from the top

This may seem obvious, but without the buy-in from your MD or CEO then you might as well not bother trying to embark on your Employer of Choice crusade.  As with the previous point, if this is being driven by the HR department alone then it is likely to fail.  Your MD or CEO needs to be the biggest ambassador and for all the right reasons.  This applies to the entire leadership and management team.

Talk to staff

Once we know why we want to become an Employer of Choice and have senior endorsement then we need to start to talk to find out what we’re doing well and not doing so well as an organisation.  The key challenges faced should form the main focus of attention.  These sessions can be carried out through face-to-face focus groups, staff surveys or by the use of technology such as engagement apps which provide frequent, real-time data.  A combination of approaches is ideal, as well as observing staff during their working day and taking time to talk to them informally to tease out what their main pain points are. Before any such interventions it is essential to ‘set the scene’ and assure people that they are free to speak without fear of repercussion.  People should trust that they can have candid conversations as this openness is the only way to get to the crux of any problems. Senior management need to accept that some of the feedback may sting a little. Frank conversations may come as a surprise but should never be taken personally and should be viewed as necessary outcome of the process.

Daily engagement apps can be a very effective tool in enabling users to express their opinions in a safe and confidential manner.  Unlike surveys which only take a snapshot on a particular day at a particular time, an engagement app can help develop a fuller picture across a specified time period and can identify trends across the organisation or within departments.  Staff need to be assured that any of the comments they provide will never be used against them. In this case any data generated is ideally collated and assessed by an external provider.

Create your brand

Employer brands describe your reputation as a place to work as opposed to the corporate brand you promote to customers.  It is about showcasing your organisation as Employer of Choice and is needed to attract, recruit and retain talent.  Celebrate your successes, shout out about staff events and become best friends with the Marketing department.  Utilise all the advertising channels available and remember to sell your why and connect with your audience on an emotional level.  Any attempts here must be genuine otherwise any new recruits drawn by glossy ads will quickly see through the hype and leave your organisation putting your reputation at risk.  Keep an eye on Glassdoor and see what your current and former employees are saying about you.  Damaged reputations take a long time to repair.

Take action

Once you have gathered and collated all your staff feedback it is time to put together your action plan and roll out changes and improvements. There will be some quick wins and some things that will take time to implement possibly with a few hiccups along the way.  It is essential to update staff on both the things you can and cannot change.  While people may not like it when you can’t put their suggestions into practice, they will be more accepting if you tell them why. Even go a step further and ask for alternative suggestions and if possible, say that you may revisit them in the future.  This is a softer approach than an outright ‘no’.

Coach managers to come up with solutions to problems themselves and set these as objectives during one-to-one sessions.  People are more receptive to change when they form part of the solution rather than being told what to do.

Create an improvement culture

Once your action plan has been put into place, the journey shouldn’t stop there.  Organisations with their people and processes change quickly over time so improvements should be ongoing and regularly reviewed.

Employers should encourage staff to adopt a continuous improvement mentality.  The best example I have seen of this was during a recent visit I made to a local rug manufacturer.  Here they practiced a daily ‘improvement hour’ between 9am and 10am during which staff had to think of ways to make their jobs easier.  They shared these during morning huddles with the entire workforce with suggestions ranging from simple measures like labelling stationary items to major improvements including more efficient packaging techniques in the factory workshop, increasing the number of rugs wrapped in a day from 800 to 1400.

The journey to becoming an Employer of choice will vary from organisation to organisation and will take time.  It needs a genuine reason and buy-in from the top in an open, blame-free culture to encourage candid conversations.  Finally, a culture of continuous improvement should be adopted with everyone encouraged to make suggestions for improvements on an ongoing basis.  The Employer of Choice journey if not a one-off trip, but an ongoing process designed to attract, recruit and retain awesome people.

Useful Reading

mooqi – Employee engagement platform 

2 Second Lean – How to Grow People and Build a Fun Lean Culture


This article is correct at 03/03/2020

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Olga Pollock
firmus energy

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