Love your people, and 4 other ways to be a ‘preferred employer’

Pay may be the least important way to attract and keep top-flight talent in an economy where there are more job openings than people looking for work.

My friend Steve Jagler, business editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, flattered me recently when he included a few of my words in the weekly C-level column he writes to executives in the Wisconsin market.

The takeoff point for this particular column by Steve was an Associated Press story on a historic economic milestone — specifically, that the number of job openings in the United States exceeds the number of unemployed Americans for the first time on record.

In light of this development, Steve thought it would be great to offer company leaders a bit of advice on how to recruit and retain top-flight people in a full-employment economy. So, he asked a number of workplace experts — and me — to offer their thoughts on five things an employer can do to become branded as a “preferred employer” in the marketplace.

The result is Steve’s June 15 column, “You want to attract and keep good employees? Love them,” which is anchored by one of the five bullet points I shared with Steve.

I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on what makes for a preferred employer. In the meantime, here is an abridged version of my off-the-cuff list, which I whipped up in an hour to meet Steve’s deadline.

You’ll note that only one of the five thoughts relates to money. Pay and benefits are important, but they rarely determine how current and prospective employees perceive an employer.

  1. Create a collaborative environment where supervisors treat their people as colleagues, not employees. That process begins with leaders who are willing to work as hard and diligently as they expect their people to work; the message that is sent is that we’re all co-laborers in the field and we’re all pulling together to reach common goals.
  2. Show genuine love to your people. When Jesus gave us the new commandment to love one another, he did not add the corollary, “But not your co-workers.” Many managers prefer to maintain an emotional distance between themselves and their colleagues out of fear that their employees won’t know who’s boss. However, I believe that creating a loving, family feel in your place of work by caring for your colleagues from the heart yields loyal, devoted co-workers who treat their boss and each other with respect and give their jobs their best efforts.
  3. Give your people the latitude to run with their jobs. In other words, don’t micromanage your employees. If you haven’t read them already, my blog posts “Managers who manage least, manage best,” parts one and two, can fill you in on the benefits to employer and employee of giving people the freedom to do their jobs with as little direction as possible.
  4. Work to high standards. Talented people do not want to put their skills to use in places with a reputation for producing mediocre work. In my days as a newspaper editor, I always set the bar high for members of our staff and worked to help them clear it, rather than lower the bar and accept so-so output. The result was an award-winning publication that was a magnet for quality journalists.
  5. Pay for quality. The Bible says in the Book of 1 Timothy that the laborer “is worthy of his reward.” That’s especially the case in a labor market where demand for quality workers greatly outstrips the supply. But don’t make the mistake of paying big bucks to bring in talent from the outside while failing to properly compensate the proven performers who already are in your workplace. One way or another, people figure out who is paid what, and there can be no greater slap in the face to your hard-working, loyal employees than handing a healthy paycheck to a new person before rewarding the current stalwarts on your team.

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