This was featured on the October 27, 2011 Fast Company blog. The tough love approach made some people grumpy, but as a recruiter of digital talent I have to agree with many of Shapiro’s points. The most sought-after people in digital and social want to work for the great innovators: Apple, Google, Facebook, HUGE, R/GA, etc.
The good news is that your company doesn’t have to outbid or outperk or even outcool competitors to attract top talent. You simply need to demonstrate commitment, support and shared vision. If you want to inspire imaginative thinking, you must give team members the authority and autonomy to experiment. So forget about free snacks (so 1997) and position your company as muse/accomplice/enabler that can challenge candidates to do their best work.
Why Digital Talent Doesn’t Want To Work At Your Company
Why doesn’t digital talent want to work at your company? It’s not because you’re a consumer packaged goods company, rather than Google. It’s not because you’re in Ohio instead of Silicon Valley. It’s not because your salaries are too low, or because you don’t offer free food and laundry services.
It’s because you’re not providing them the right opportunity. The talent you want would be happy to work in an un-air-conditioned garage in New Mexico if it meant the chance to change the world.
This, the opportunity to do great things, to make a real difference, is what drives most digital talent–whether they’re developers, designers, producers, marketers or business folks.
Most companies don’t offer this, so they skip your company and work somewhere that’s more innovative and exciting. End of story. But the good news is that you can offer them something exciting and great. The promise of changing a giant, behind-the-times organization into an Internet-savvy business is an incredibly exciting challenge and a big way for ambitious people to make an impact.
But it takes more than lip service to make the sale. Job candidates and new hires with digital chops must truly believe in the company’s dedication to digital transformation and they must see that they are empowered to make this change. Trouble is, many big businesses aren’t structured to deliver on this type of opportunity. The attributes of a soul-crushing, Sisyphean, anti-digital workplace run deep.
Digital talent won’t want to work at your company if:
- Every element of their work will be pored over by multiple layers of bureaucracy. Even if that’s how the rest of the company operates, it can’t spill into the digital department. In a technology environment, new products and businesses spring up daily and a new endeavor can go from conception to launch in a matter of months. Reining in the momentum will be read as inaction and a clear signal the company isn’t willing to grasp the new way of the world.
- Mediocre is good enough. While clocking out at 5 p.m. is attractive to some, it will discourage digital talent. They want to be expected to do something great. They want to be pushed. They care about their work. Their leadership, and those they rely on to get things done, must match their appetite for success.
- Trial and error is condemned. The freedom to try out new ideas allows employees to take initiative, make decisions, and learn from their mistakes. It also demonstrates an attractive and inspiring entrepreneurial spirit.
- Your company is structured so it takes a lifetime to get to the top, and as such there are no digital experts in company-wide leadership positions. Digital talent–often in their 20s and 30s–need to see a clear path for uninhibited career development that’s based on merit, not years spent, and that’s beyond the confines of the digital department. If they don’t, they won’t see a reason to stay with the company in the long term.
- Your offices are cold, impersonal and downright stodgy. It may sound like it conflicts with the “you don’t need to be in Silicon Valley point,” but appreciate the nuance. A traditional office layout is designed to communicate power among certain individuals and barriers between departments. This does not support the collaborative ethos which is intrinsic to the web. Companies should do everything possible to provide the digital team friendlier, open office space. A location in a hip, young neighborhood (which surely exists in every mid- to large-sized city) is also a big plus.
When all of these digital-talent deterring points are addressed, company leadership has effectively and proactively demonstrated the company’s dedication to a digital transformation. It is at this time that their words, a broadly communicated firm stance on the significance of the company’s digital goals, will make the most impact. Without this conspicuous top-down support, politics in the organization or simply one influential disbeliever can hinder the effort, limit the extent of digital integration possible, and discourage valuable employees.
You need them more than they need you. Demand for their services is so high, they can afford to be finicky. If they don’t like where they’re working, another firm with a more attractive culture and more grand opportunity will quickly swipe them up. That could be your company. But it could just as easily be someone else.
Adapted from Users Not Customers: Who Really Determines the Success of Your Business by Aaron Shapiro, CEO of HUGE, a digital agency that helps companies including PespiCo, Comcast, Target, HBO, and Unilever reimagine how they interact with their customers and manage their business in the online economy. Visit aaronshapiro.com.