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John Pope

Woolhampton Management Services


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Employer of choice – with privilege comes responsibility


Would you like to be the ‘Employer of Choice’?  I don’t know who coined that phrase but it sounds good.

When out recruiting you get the biggest queue at your stand – all the best people, and unfortunately quite a lot of the ‘not good enough’. You can pick and choose whom you want. Great people, great start, a great responsibility too – sure you can really use the best people?  It’s unethical to take them on if you can’t.

Employer profile
It’s a blend of course, a consistent, stable, lasting blend of being:

  • a strong, sound organisation – up-to-date, with continuing opportunities for those who are prepared to seize them
  • safe enough – an organisation which will be lasting and has a realistic future and a valued place in society a contributor to the national economy. One which will be there for as long as the customers and workforce needs it, though not necessarily for ever
  • good to work in,with friendly co-operative people who make new staff feel at home, one which almost feels like a club with its own style and with a social life of its own – perhaps even its own sports society
  • good at recognising people’s contributions, achievements and of making sure that others recognize them too; a place where continuing achievements lead to progress and opportunities for further development or promotion
  • engaged in worthwhile work, where it is possible to look back proudly on what has been achieved, something which is of intrinsic value.

A pause for reflection
Hang on – this sounds like Maslov’s hierarchy of needs to me. I have started at the bottom of his pyramid with a human’s needs for survival – work which pays sufficiently; then security – where the organisation looks well founded and likely to last, though not necessarily for a lifetime’s career; then belonging – where the organisation provides mutual support, where there are friendly colleagues, groups with whom the individual feels at home; then the esteem of the work-group and others in the organisation, fellow professionals, admired for achievements; and at the top of the pyramid, self-esteem, otherwise known as pride – pride in what has been achieved, the by-product of work in the organisation, a life well spent, where time has not been wasted by disorganisation or indirection.

We want what we have not got
Or rather, we want what we realise is possible, conditions and opportunities which others have at their work which we do not have. The balance between the different factors in the profile of the ‘employer of choice’ changes with circumstances.  At times of wide unemployment the promise of steady work, no lay-offs, can make employers seem good even when the work is boring and dull, badly supervised, rigidly prescribed.  It is sad when the pension guaranteed at the end of it makes it an employer which many willingly choose.

A demanding profile

That’s a lot for the ‘Employer of Choice’ to aim at, let alone achieve. Since many employers are nowhere near that ideal state there should be little difficulty in making the recognisable improvements which would give an employer an advantage in getting the best people.

It is not enough for the employer to measure up well against that profile at the time of employment. That profile must be credible and continue through good and bad times. If it is not, the implicit promise made when the employee joins is broken and the employee remains through a state of inertia, family circumstances, and feels locked in.

Appetite grows with eating
We always want things to be better. Improvements in the way employers treat their people will be generally welcomed. Tangible benefits, better pay or facilities can have a quick effect and be very welcome, but these are transitory, can be soon taken for granted and will eventually be forgotten and replaced by ever higher expectations.

What about the employee of choice?

Different employers will have their own, and sometimes very different, views on what they look for in potential employees.  As is well known, over-specifying the calibre of employee needed for a job can be just as dangerous as under-specifying; it is also morally wrong to waste or misuse talented people. There are other aspects to consider. Conventionally we admire new people who have clear objectives from their work and clear aims for their careers. But the great Antarctic explorer, Shackleton, put it well when he said “Show me the man who knows exactly where he’s going – he won’t be going very far”. Quite naturally, he saw a working life as an exploration.  Perhaps the employer of choice must create the conditions where there are continuing challenges for the adventurous, and provide less arduous conditions for those who are not.

Employees make companies as well as comparisons

They, we all , make compromises. We accept that some of the conditions of employment of the work itself are not ideal but on balance one employer is better than another in the same line of business. This seems to be true at all levels of employment, from straight day-labour to high level professional work. Different employers or partnerships have their own style, conditions, reputation: they attract new employees of different characters and style accordingly. Sometimes this shines out of individuals: one major IT company was known as – ‘You can always tell an xxx man but you can’t tell him much’.

A demanding commitment

Being the employer of choice is a demanding commitment. It is not something that can be reached easily even if the organisation is already seen as a good employer. It is also easily broken by thoughtless managers under pressure, or by ‘galloping midgets’ who have been brought in at senior level and think they can make their reputations quickly but who throw away employee goodwill in the process. New staff, at every level have to understand how precious the organisation’s reputation is and be warned about damaging it. There will of course be damaging accidents as well as unpleasant decisions, however there must always be reasoned explanations and public apologies made at the highest level.

Sure you want to be ‘The Employer of Choice’?  

John Pope has been a management consultant for over 40 years and has worked to improve the development and performance of businesses, managers and management teams for most of his career. To know more about John’s work and services please visit the website:  His book ‘Winning Consultancy Business’ was published in July and is now available through his website.  He can be contacted at [email protected].

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John Pope


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