The most important component of long-term sustainable advantage for any firm -- regardless of its size -- is its ability to attract, retain, inspire and grow talent. Talent is the sustainable advantage. It is talent and only talent that creates and/or preserves every other form of sustainable advantage whether it be innovation, new ideas or superior service.
If a brand is an experience it is employees who ideate, create, design and deliver the experience.
If cost management is a key goal, then focusing on a fewer better paid and trained employees working at their full potential with minimum external monitoring but maximum internal motivationis likely to yield lower costs than hiring the cheapest labor.
Employees as advocates
Today potential employees and customers have access online to a spectrum of resources to evaluate the culture and advocacy of existing employees of a firm. Employee advocates attract other employees and are the best salespeople to convince potential customers. So, maybe instead of focusing on customers or technology or shareholders we should focus on the key to everything: Employee Joy.
Rather than net promoter scores, ESG goals and ROI metrics, we should better understand the people who drive the results we are monitoring. Let us focus on the players rather than the equipment, the field, or the scoreboard.
There are several ways to evaluate employee joy, from observed metrics such as average tenure, turnover, percent of offers accepted and the premium one has to offer to hire a person to exit interviews, custom surveys, focus groups, town halls and tracking comments on third-party sites and more.
Regardless of how and what one measures, what is key is that every manager up to the CEO recognize and be motivated so that a huge portion of their success and compensation is based on how they lead, nurture and grow people.
Many studies of the best CEOs show they tend to focus on three key areas which are strategy, capital allocation and people rather than operations, revenue generation, investor relations or customer management. And those who have been superb at strategy and capital allocation like a Jeff Bezos but did not pay enough attention to people have recognized that it is now key.
Why is the importance of employee joy growing?
Regardless of the type of job one is trying to fill, whether it be a cook for a restaurant or an engineer, firms today have open jobs they struggle to fill even with significant compensation increases. Some of this may be attributed to government benefits that enable one to not work, at least temporarily. But the issue is far deeper as we approach the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has through a combination of separating an employee from their place of work, concentrating one’s mind on the fragility of life and breaking rote habitsmade many people re-think their lives and careers.
According to a recent Microsoft Survey 41% of employees globally are thinking of handing in their notice -- with that number soaring to 54% among Gen Z.
And bombastic bosses insisting on a return to the office when COVID is not gone and talent is not hankering for the old ways gives further pause to the very people they are trying to cajole, threaten or implore back to the containers and ways of the past.
What do employees want? How to ensure joy?
Regardless of industry, country or demographic group research conducted for Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data identified six components of joy:
Companies that win in the long run tend to deliver on all six but are particularly good at connectedness, purpose, and growth since this retains and grows talent for the long run.
As technology expands and gets more powerful and cheaper more and more work done by carbon-based, analog-feeling things (humans) will be replaced by silicon-based, digital-computing objects (computers). The companies that thrive will combine the best of technology with the best of talent working with joy. Because low-cost talent with no joy is an unfeeling commodity that can be replaced by a machine or can be underbid by someone with a cheaper FTE (a full-time equivalent which itself telegraphs we are all replaceable widgets!)
People make the business.
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