Rob Catalano writes on recognition, engagement, alignment and forward-thinking methods for helping organisations focus on employees to drive business success. Rob is a Certified Recognition Professional (CRP) and a popular speaker on the HR circuit, having presented on best practices and trends in over 30 cities. His writings include a ‘wisdom of crowds’ approach leveraging his work with hundreds of organisations globally.

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure to speak on a webinar with Professor Nick Kemsley, Co- Director of the Henley Business School Centre for HR Excellence on how talent is more ‘consumer-like’ than ever.  Professor Kemsley discussed fascinating research recently conducted around this topic.

It resonated with me because even though I’ve been in the HR space for a decade, I’m a marketer by trade and can appreciate the way we treat consumers and how we SHOULD be treating employees similarly.

Why are employees more like consumers today?

Professor Kemsley discussed main reasons why we should see employees as consumers:

  1. Rise in portfolio thinking – employees are thinking long-term and building a portfolio for future positions. Gone are the days that employees are joining companies for life.
  2. Low barriers to switching – LinkedIn’s advent of socially recruiting the passive candidate has made it easier for employees and employers to find each other. Crossing borders isn’t an issue either as it is much easier to relocate these days.
  3. Skills Shortage – employers are getting more aggressive at poaching your employees – talent is where smart companies are investing to grow a successful business. Start with who, then what.
  4. Personal brand equity – people wear brand name clothing and drive cars as a status symbol in many cases. The employee résumé or current logo beside their profile is important for their personal brands, and landing that next gig.
  5. Changing attitudes to work and needs – for some consumers, the products they associate themselves is more than the product, it’s an aligned purpose or belief of the brand. Employees want more than a job, they want a calling that aligns with organisational purpose and will get paid less for it.

This is important because we have to change our approach to employee engagement and retention to impact a new type of employee in a new work environment. Ask yourself if you’re really engaging with the NEEDS of the new employee? 

What can your company do about it?

Even though we say employees are our most important assets, it’s clear that we invest much more in customers than employees. Gartner forecasts by 2018 the investment globally in Human Capital Management systems versus Customer Relationship Management systems will be $11B and $41B, respectively. Four times less. The mindset needs to change.

Five things to consider changing in your approach to engage these new ‘consumers’ are:

  1. Look outwards – change your HR approach to look outwards towards the employee, not inwards towards ‘Core HR’. Ask yourself how many major initiatives in the last three years were really providing value to employees, versus value predominantly to your HR department (yes, that recent HRIS implementation, too).
  2. Get transformational, not transactional – if your engagement practices are a set of activities or targets as a result of a survey, then it is reactive and transactional. To be transformational there needs to be a deep belief in the power of people to contribute and that employees are integral to deliver business strategy.
  3. Your strategy must impact employees daily – consumers are fickle and expect great products and service, instantly. Your annual initiatives and programmes won’t work. Employees work in days and hours, not quarters or years.  
  4. Engage managers – managers often get overlooked, but they’re employees too. Too often, they’re not ready for management and don’t have the skill set or experience. Make managers part of the process of developing the strategy and enacting it with employees.  Managers have more impact on changing the organisation positively than leaders or executives.
  5. Get ‘employee-specific’ – ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work for consumers and it won’t for employees either.  Think about the time you’re being mass-marketed to and you ignore it – your employees are no different.  There needs to be a genuine interest in the individual employee.

We have a lot to learn from how we approach consumers in a sales and marketing sense to how we should be listening to and understanding employees. It’s frequent and personal employee dialogue that will make a difference, not the broad-based approach.

As a consumer, you only really pay attention to messages that are relevant to you.

Ask if your current approach is capturing employee attention?