Throwing pennies into the talent wishing well

We come across a lot of articles about businesses and how they should be run. One of the most pertinent challenges today is how to attract – and retain – young talent.

We came across an article written by Promise Phelon, CEO of TapInfluence, who wrote for the Fortune website titled: The One Thing That Matters More Than Perks to Attract the Best Talent. It provided insight that we thought business owners may find helpful.

It’s all about the benefits

Finding the right job has almost always been as much about the benefits as it is about the job. However, the tech revolution has changed the way we see benefits, with companies like Google , Salesforce, and Twitter offering perks like fully-stocked kitchens, concierge services, on-staff chefs and baristas, laundry service, car detailing, game rooms, free transportation, and more.

As the Googles of the world continue to top lists of best places to work, some startups may look to offer similar, and often crazier, employee perks in an effort to compete for top industry talent.

Confusion confluence

Unfortunately, that’s created an environment where company perks are conflated with company culture.

Of course, startups need to offer certain benefits in order to attract and retain talented and ambitious employees. However, it’s more important to focus on developing an enviable culture and allowing perks to be an extension of it; not the other way around. Perks are not a replacement for a strong culture.

Think of it like an iceberg: there’s a lot going on under the surface when the company is investing in culture. Only then, on top of that solid foundation, should perks be a focus.

For instance, offering meals for everyone should not really be about free food; it should actually about building relationships and trust, and respecting the contributions of a hard-working team. If people sit at their desks with headphones on working through lunch, there’s no interaction and no relationship-building.

So providing a space for gathering and conversation goes hand in hand with cultivating a culture in which your employees feel connected not only with the company mission, but with each other, as well.

Equity partners

In a startup, one of the most important perks you can offer employees is equity. Not everyone is cut out for the risk and pressure of working for a startup, so the people you want to attract are the ones willing to take on the risk with passion and enthusiasm.

While there’s no guarantee of startup success, offering stock options turns the high risk into a potentially equally high reward. Stock options cultivate an ownership culture where employees work hard to ensure the success of the company in the hope for a reward bigger than just a paycheck—and not just monetary.

They become makers, doers, and builders. They’re exposed to financials, people operations, marketing and communications, sales processes, and are invested in every facet of the company’s progress.

Investment in success

Focusing on culture also develops and fosters intrinsic motivations, such as autonomy and mastery. This requires getting to the why of employee engagement. Three key facets we take into account are transparency, winning habits, and individual learning.

Engaged people believe in what they’re doing, and transparency provides the visibility that is required to build trust. The more people are included in what’s happening with the business, the more invested they are in its success.

Its all about what you stand for

No matter what perks your company offers, someone else will offer the same thing; or something better. For good or ill, the culture is the foundation of the company’s reputation and is what helps companies of any size attract, retain, and grow great talent.

Instead of putting together a slew of fun and quirky perks, ask yourself who you are. What kind of company culture do you want to create, and what kinds of benefits and growth plans can you offer to support that culture?

Managing expectations

One of the easiest ways to achieve this is through digital transformation. However, as an article on forbes.com points out, this is not easily achievable for some companies.

The article points out that digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t automatically kick in when new technologies are brought into the enterprise. If anything, many organizations are feeling the backlash incurred by high expectations about digital transformation. One recent industry survey, for example, found that 66% of companies are experiencing difficulties in achieving their digital transformation objectives, and only 18% expressed confidence they could meet these goals.

Often, these attempts at digital transformation fail to include or consider the key roles of employees from across the spectrum. Altimeter Group’s most recent survey on the state of digital transformation finds that while “employee behaviors and preferences” share the top spot as a primary factor driving digital transformation, the greatest inhibitor to such initiatives is “low digital literacy or expertise among employees and leadership.” Altimeter analysts “expect employee engagement and experience (EX) to grow in importance in 2018 and 2019.”

The article adds that where successful transformation efforts are being achieved, inclusion of firstline workers is also a contributing factor. A survey from early 2017 by McKinsey & Company finds that at companies successfully undergoing digital transformations, respondents are much more likely to report visibly engaged firstline workers: 73% compared with 46% of all other respondents.

This is confirmed by a new study conducted by Forbes Insights, which finds that 43% of executives in organizations with high levels of digitally empowered firstline workers report excellent progress in their digital transformation efforts, versus 21% of executives with few digitally empowered workers. Similar levels of progress are seen with another important component of digital transformation: 34% of highly empowered organizations report excellent progress with leveraging data analytics, versus 14% of low-empowerment organizations.

Bringing it forward

So how do companies bring firstline workers towards digital transformation?

The article points out that the role of firstline workers in digital transformation takes many forms, depending on industry and job roles. For example, aircraft maintenance workers are using online tools to forecast parts requirements, optimize inventory to support service, model scenarios and manage a part’s life cycle from first installation to retirement. Sales associates have access to detailed customer profile data and inventory levels on mobile devices, enabling them to meet customer demands and provide alternatives in real time when products are unavailable. Field service workers are tapping remote expertise through immersive technologies and experiences, such as mixed reality, to address problems in the field with expertise in the corporate headquarters.

The article adds that firstline employee involvement in digital transformation is only expected to grow, the Forbes Insights survey finds. About one-third of executives, 34%, say their firstline workers are full participants in digital transformation discussions/decisions, and 37% say firstline workers’ input is sought to help map out digital transformation strategies. However, only about a fourth of executives anticipate their firstline workers will be closely involved in various aspects of their digital transformation efforts over the next few years.