Do your policies and your brand match up?


True Story:

A young man was interviewing for his dream job. (We’ll call him Fred). Fred was in the final stages of the interview, you know where the formal interview room turns into a steakhouse and you get to order dessert and you KNOW you’re getting this job. Anyway, Fred was happily chomping through his asparagus when his boss to be (also the CEO of the company) said: “Fred, we’re excited to have you come on board. We want you to know that XYZ Corp. is more than a stepping stone for you. We want you to build a long lasting career here.”

Fred nodded, finished his lunch, accepted the position and worked at XYZ Corp happily for three months or so. However, he began to notice that while the company expected complete loyalty from everyone from the copy paper boy to the Accounting Director, rarely did the company think twice about letting them go, for minor infractions or even just to help the bottom line. The final straw came when Fred was sitting in a meeting where the CEO decided to let the VP of Sales (been around for 3 years) go because he’d just hired an associate who would “do the same work for half the price”. Fred knew a college grad couldn’t replace the 20 year industry veteran and said so. The CEO just laughed and said, “We can do what we want, people are desperate for jobs.”

Fred realized that while the company might want him to build a long-lasting career there, it was only for as long as the company deemed necessary. XYZ Corp not only did a lousy job of fostering their employees but they rarely rewarded loyalty or chose the person over the paycheck. Although Fred was disillusioned, he stayed at the company. But his idealized dream of building a long term career there was gone. He knew that anytime the chopping block came down, his time there would only count against him and any raises he received would be grudgingly given at best. His work began to become routine, he put little imagination into his tasks and he rarely went “above and beyond”.

What happened here? ( I am taking Fred’s word for it here)

First off, the CEO told a bold-faced lie. So your company’s not a daycare. FINE BY ME! Just don’t pretend it is. If you expect folks to come in, learn a new skill, contribute until they are no longer useful and then replace them, GREAT! Hire a good marketer to get that message into your employer branding packet and move on (in the meantime, coach the leadership team on saying it at the hiring lunch). But don’t give every doe-eyed young executive the speech about how they should give your their best and you’ll support them all the way if it’s not gonna happen.

Lesson: Get branding initiatives in line with what your company actually stands for. Why not say “We’re a driven and dynamic company that takes pride in teaching our employees how to move to the next level”? Make sure not to sell employees on something that doesn’t exist. Flaunt what you have, don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

Secondly, expectations were very poorly mismanaged by both Fred AND his new company. The company used a line that might as well have come from the “How to sound like a CEO” book and it put in Fred’s mind an expectation of company loyalty (which as a younger fellow in his first real executive position, Fred may not have posessed before). This contrasted with the company’s actual practices, made Fred feel betrayed, which affected his work adversely.

Lesson: No matter how namby-pamby it sounds, the work relationship is just that. A RELATIONSHIP! So even though a company is paying the employee and even though the positions of power may vary from normal relationships, some of the same tenets still exist. Trust still exists (or should) and when that is broken, even if by a “little white lie” like the one listed above, it denigrates the relationship. Fairly, or unfairly, these intangible issues become an inherent part of the “benefits package” as understood by Fred. When one of them is taken away, the commodity he provides to employer, namely his dedicated and innovative prodcution on a daily basis, is denigrated. Furthermore, he feels entirely justified in this practice, since he was “betrayed”.

Instead, use a program like the much lauded Zappo’s “hire slow and fire fast”. I recently advised a client in a high turnover industry to start explaining all the negative aspects of the job to prospective employees. Hiring for key positions now takes weeks or even months. However, not one of those executives has left, while the “people pleaser crowd” were moving every 3-6 months. So many employers stress the positives of the job first and then gloss over or omit the negative parts. Never works. Manage expectations.

Third, Fred is a big baby. Okay, maybe that’s not the PC way to say it, but it is the truth. By taking his employer’s money and refusing to contribute his best, he is putting his own integrity on the line. Using his lack of trust in his employer to excuse his own poor performance is at best a raring sense of self-entitlement and at worst, stealing. And his acceptance of the company line right off the bat without further investigation as the environment he was exposing himself to further pushes the responsibility off his shoulders. As a young executive he should have done his due diligence and made an educated decision.

The Lesson: Imagine how different Fred’s reaction would have been had he dug up the company rep before starting there. Or had he decided how this job was going to fit into his overall career plans ahead of time, and not allowed the careless whispers of a new boss to sway what he knew to be his personal trajectory? In my mind’s eye, it looks like a young man taking a job with eyes wide open, using it to build a wealth of experience and further his education, getting a fantastic reccomendation when it’s time to move on and staying in control of his career. Instead, for now, Fred is stalled, “pretending” to work at a job where he feels betrayed and is scared to rise to the top for fear of being fired. He has effectively handed over control of his career to someone whose main concern is to grow his business at a profit in difficult economic times.