Employee Perceptions: A Common Barrier to Recruiting Success

We all know that when it comes to recruiting quality candidates, no tool works better than a well-managed employee referral program. But what few people seem to acknowledge is that your own workforce could sabotage your best recruiting efforts. Employers often believe that for the most part their employees are satisfied with their jobs, their managers, and the office environment. But in many cases, that isn’t what they would tell a friend. Most studies have identified that the number one reason a person chooses to voluntarily quite his or her job is the presence of a manager who, for lack of a better word, is a jerk. Not surprisingly, most managers believe voluntary separations are largely attributed to compensation-related issues. What occurs in almost every organization is a disconnect in perceptions: management believes one thing, while employees perceive something entirely different. For example, management may believe they do a great deal as an organization that positively impacts the rest of the world, but when asked, most employees might say they do little to make a difference. This disconnect largely occurs because employees are often not involved in making decisions, such as where an organization’s charitable dollars should go or how the compensation pie should be split up. Nor are the impacts of such decisions even communicated to employees. Perceptions Are Key For any recruiting program that depends on people to sell an opportunity to a desired candidate ó which, correct me if I am wrong, is all recruiting programs ó employee perceptions play a major role in enabling success. You cannot expect candidates to get excited about your organization if your own employees can’t tell others why they are excited, right off the top of their heads. If you think I am way off base, ask a friend not connected to your organization to ask an average employee in your organization what your company does that excites them. What may startle you is that most of your employees would have a difficult time answering such a question, if they could answer it at all. The most successful organizations in recruiting recognize this, and routinely work to insure that the perceptions of employees are in line with the employment brand image they want to portray. The number one resource inside your organization for spreading your story is not your employee newsletter, and certainly not your recruiting-related marketing, but rather your people. It is essential that your people be able to tell your best story. And that means you have to arm them with the right tools to do so.Understanding Your Employees The first thing you as an organization must do is get a handle on what employees actually perceive about your organization. If you think your employees are giving you the real story when you ask them if they are happy, think again. Most employees are fearful of telling what they actually think, because in the past managers have taken such feedback not as honest perceptions, but rather as personal attacks, which frequently results in confrontation and negative treatment. Ask an outside firm to randomly sample your organization to garner your employees’ perceptions on issues such as pride, loyalty, management interaction, etc. You should understand employee perceptions on any issue that directly impacts your desired employment brand and business objectives. Managing Perceptions Perceptions are not fact, but rather subjective interpretations of fact (which luckily are not set in stone). Ask any marketing professional and they will tell you that managing perceptions is their job. To dramatically impact the success of your recruiting programs, it is essential that your organization develop tools to not only identify perceptions, but also modify those that do not support your desired brand image. When I say modify, I do not mean confront. Modifying employee perceptions is about arming your employees with the right information and education to align their perceptions with your desired image. It isn’t about telling them what their perceptions should be, or that their perceptions are wrong. It’s about enabling them to discover that on their own. For example, let’s say your organization has a perception issue relating to profit sharing. Specifically, employees do not feel they get a large enough share of the pie (this is an issue seen often.) Let’s further assume that while your base compensation plan pays employees at the 75th percentile, your total comp pays employees at 160% of market. You as an employer know this because you consistently benchmark against other firms, including the competition, and to some degree you tell employees this. However, if the issue exists, your telling them has little impact, because you are suspect. The answer: Let them discover the truth or reeducate them subtly on what makes up compensation and give them some external comparison points. You have established your beliefs because you have a frame of reference that provides you with the bigger picture, a frame of reference they do not possess. While communicating with employees in such a way to develop such reference points is complicated, the results make it all worthwhile. Tools That Can Be Used To Manage Perceptions Here are a just a few of the tools you can use to better manage employee perceptions:

  • Employee involvement on steering groups. We often use steering groups to gather data, evaluate an issue, and make decisions that impact the entire organization. But few firms include a member of “the masses” in such groups. Selecting employees from across the organization to participate creates a trusted channel through which the basis for decisions that have been made can be communicated back to all employees through the grapevine.
  • External validation lists. Lists that rank organizations as great places to work, or most admired firms, give employees a sense that someone outside the firm has looked at all the rest and decided that you do more than the competition on their behalf.
  • Benchmark surveys. We spend thousands of dollars participating in them each year, but rarely do we publicize the outcome. It’s not a great story if it isn’t being told. Not being number one on a benchmark ranking isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you can justify why you aren’t in ways that your employees can understand.
  • Simple reminders. Most organizations have so many programs and benefits available to employees that even they loose track of them. Use existing channels to regularly remind employees what they have available to them. A great many organizations have said that they communicate the existence of such programs to employees when they start, via orientation. How much do you personally remember from your orientation? What has changed since then?
  • Getting talked about. If you are doing something worth bragging about (of course, you should be doing more than one thing), then I can guarantee you there is someone outside your organization interested in talking about it, whether it be an educator from a local university who mentions it in her classes and lectures or a magazine writer who writes about it in a local or national publication. Your employees won’t know about it if it isn’t being talked about.

Conclusion We all want to have successful recruiting programs, and we all want to be doing things that make others in the organization recognize our achievements. It’s human nature to crave recognition. Organizations need to stop worrying about what people don’t say and arm them with great stories to tell so we know what they do say. Understanding and managing the perceptions of your employees will have a profound impact on the success of your recruiting programs, especially those that involve a great deal of human interaction. Managing perceptions is about metrics, and it’s also about elevating the HR profession. It’s time to stop being the administration people, and start being the results people.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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