A word of warning: if you have a toxic culture, floods of backchannel internal communication, and values that drive self-interest, you can stop reading now. Nothing in this article will help you address worker shortage until you attend to those deeper issues.
All businesses are feeling it right now. The worker shortage. The Great Resignation. In the last dozen conversations I’ve had with family businesses, it is the same refrain: “We don’t lack opportunity. We lack people.”
Or, more specifically, the right people.
The problem is, when a qualified workforce seems so hard to come by, holding out for just the right fit seems like a luxury from a bygone age.
But like in all challenges, there is an opportunity here for businesses who have been doing hard work on their culture, operations, vision, and values over the years.
It is time to make all of that investment, all of the blood, sweat, and (likely literal) tears pay off.
As I often repeat, your brand is your reputation. You can’t control it, but you can influence it. And in the case of employer branding, the process of influencing it is the same as for a customer-facing brand.
Step 1: Get clear on your focus, and make sure you are solving the right problems in the right order.
I often hear many companies asking the same question: what platform should I be using to attract the right people? Indeed.com? LinkedIn? Zip Recruiter? But it is the wrong question. Or, at least, a question that can’t be answered without raising a number of other questions. (It is comparable to that other question I hear every day: Should we be on TikTok?)
You need to get clear on your audience, your goals, your media, and your message. It may sound basic, but in my experience, these basics are rarely applied to recruiting and employer branding. Our team at Six-Point Creative specializes in providing family-owned businesses with this clarity. If you’re feeling unsure where to start, schedule a discovery call with us to get unstuck.
Some questions to ask that will quickly clarify your focus:
- What does success look like? What would you be seeing, hearing, and feeling if you had an employer brand that was attracting the right people?
- Who are you trying to attract? Think about the people in your own organization who are successful, and also what you are trying to accomplish that might require different skills and experience.
- Where have we seen success attracting great people in the past? Look for patterns in what has worked.
- Where have we made recruitment mistakes or wasted time and money? Learning from the past can make sure you don’t repeat it.
In our clarity exercise with a client recently, we dug into their recruitment efforts addressing the worker shortage and realized that referrals from employees have been by far their most successful hires, both in terms of skills and cultural alignment. Employees hired out of a slim pool of online candidates have been hit or miss at best. But the number of employee referrals they have been getting has been trending downward over the years.
This line of inquiry surfaced a new initiative: Get the number of employee referrals up.
It gave them laser-like focus on the next steps, and stimulated a lot of creative thinking as to how to get those numbers up: employee referral contests, best place to work awards, reviewing the referral bonus structure, an internal recognition and communication plan, referral templates and training, and more.
If this client had jumped to the solution before digging deeper, they could have wasted more time and money advertising on the already saturated job boards that they knew already would produce only mediocre results.
Step 2: Understand how to align your company values to what your potential employees value.
I know this may sound like a lot of vague nonsense, but this is truly the biggest opportunity staring family businesses in the face right now.
Quit rates right now are at an all-time high, contributing to this large worker shortage. In August 2021, a new record of 2.9% was set, meaning 4.3 million workers quit their jobs. This is the highest rate since quit rates started being tracked in 2000 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, when the quit rate was 2.4% or 3.25 million workers.
Why is this Great Resignation happening? Both because people’s values and attitudes have shifted over the past two years, and they now have the ability to do something about it.
Money and perks are no longer the only factors driving employment decisions. Like many things, COVID didn’t create this change, but it did accelerate the worker shortage and amplify it. Flexibility, growth potential, family time, and enjoying one’s colleagues are now front and center, and thanks to pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan forgiveness, people have more freedom to quit jobs that they hate and find something else. As Derek Thompson, author of Hit Makers, said: “This level of quitting is really an expression of optimism that says, we can do better.”
So how can you position your company as that better option?
Branding is the alignment of your product’s value to what your customers value. In this case, the career potential and working environment are your product. You need to know what your ideal potential employees value, understand what your company offers in terms of value, and look for connections between the two. Then you need to communicate that overlap in a way that makes the prospective employee the hero, not your company.
I have seen a number of companies take the first part really seriously — they articulate what their internal values are, and what they expect from employees. This is like a marketing campaign that talks all about the product or service from the point of view of the engineers or experts. It might work if the category is not very crowded, but we are in a different level of competition. Now you need to reach that next level of marketing, where you are talking about your business from the “customer’s” point of view. How does it fit into their lives? How does it speak to their hopes or aspirations? How does it connect to their personal values?
One of our manufacturing clients had a slew of retirements of long-tenured employees, and for the first time found themselves with a majority of employees who are under 35, and who are excellent workers with a lot of promise. We are interviewing and surveying these employees to hear what they are looking for in their job, and are going to turn these conversations into both some internal training and retention initiatives as well as an external campaign to attract even more new young talent.
Side note: If you are rolling your eyes at this, you aren’t alone. Yes, it would be nice if providing a steady paycheck was enough, but it isn’t. Not if you want to be a high-performing company with staying power. Is it good enough to provide a mediocre product these days? Of course not. Your competitor would eat your lunch. And in this case, the job is your product.
Step 3: Communicate the heck out of your value, and how it connects with your audience.
The exciting part of all of this is that family-owned businesses have always provided more than just a paycheck. Now it is finally that “more” that people are really looking for.
In the old model, you would need to compete with the deep pockets of larger corporate competitors. Now that people aren’t only considering wages, family businesses who can articulate just what makes them special places to work actually can have a competitive advantage.
80% of employees surveyed by Edelman value and expect wage growth, training, career growth, and work which they find interesting & fulfilling from their employer. Respondents answered you would either need to pay them a lot more (42%) or it would actually be a deal-breaker (32%) to work for a company that does not offer them.
Similarly, 74% of employees expect employers to offer a voice in key decisions and a culture that is values-driven and inclusive.
If your company offers these aspects, make sure you are talking about them in ways that are concrete and easy to understand for your prospective employees, and that your current employees can speak to them as well. And be sure to talk about the family aspects of your business. In the U.S., family businesses enjoy a 24% trust advantage over businesses in general, which is a major leg-up on the playing field right now.
We have seen a marked difference not just in the response rate but also in the candidate quality for job postings that start off speaking to what the employee is looking for and is passionate about (in plain language) vs. the traditional ads that lead with what the employer is looking for or industry jargon.
So, to recap, here is the game plan to find great talent during this worker shortage:
- Get clear on where your best opportunities are for attracting right-fit candidates beyond just the job posting platforms and whether or not to use a recruiter.
- Find connections between what your company already offers and what your right fit candidates are looking for. (Don’t be afraid to have some conversations about this with both current and potential employees.)
- Articulate the value connections in clear language in all job postings, website content, and internal documentation, making the prospective employee the hero. Clarity and consistency is critical.
If this sounds great, but executing it feels overwhelming or impossible with everything else you are juggling…schedule a discovery call to see if our Solve for Y process might be a fit to help you accelerate your employer-of-choice branding efforts.