We all know unemployment is low. People are not motivated to take jobs that they would have in leaner times. Many employees are eager to jump ship for a job that they think will be better. This situation causes tremendous strategic difficulties for some companies, but it can create opportunities for others. If your company can create a real strength in attracting and retaining the best workers in your industry, you will have a competitive advantage that few can match. This is most easily seen in service industries, where the force is often, in a sense, the product. Manufacturing companies, however, should not overlook this source of competitive advantage, as it can be quite powerful. One of our clients notes that, in their manufacturing business, there is a direct correlation between measured employee satisfaction and measured customer satisfaction - that is, happy employees make for happy customers.

As the growth rate in the U.S. economy exceeds the growth of the literate work-force population, we can expect to see this problem get worse rather than better. In some industries it is already acute. In addition, there are facets of the current situation that exacerbate the problem, such as a booming stock market and the rise of wealth in the Internet sector. Morale in many businesses can be affected by employees? vague feelings that other people are a lot better off than they are. This has always been a great source of dissatisfaction, but the perceived tidal wave of Internet millionaires created in the past three years has greatly increased this problem.

Of course, high employee turnover and understaffing can be handled, if they are anticipated. McDonald? s, for example, is a very successful company because they have, over the years, developed systems that enable their operations to deliver consistent quality with inexperienced employees. But even a company like McDonald? s, whose systems are designed to handle high turnover, can suffer when turnover gets too high. And such operations still require managers with at least a modicum of experience.

Clearly, companies need an arsenal of goodies to attract top people. While it? s always a good idea to give employees a piece of the action, you must remember that there is a wide array of rewards to offer employees. If you resort to the simplest of these -- money -- you may soon see your bottom line turning red. What your company needs is a series of attractions that will turn it into a Disneyland for your workforce. These attractions, however, must be affordable and aligned with your strategy.

People want to feel that they are special and that their jobs are special. This is the single most important point any company should consider when deciding how to attract, develop and retain employees. For an employee to feel that a job is special there must be something about the job that is perceived as noteworthy and admirable. Ideally, this perception should extend not just to the employee, but to the employee? s friends and family as well. There are several things that might make people think a job is special:

? Your company
The reputation a company has can be tremendously valuable, even to small firms. In the late 1980? s, Ben and Jerry? s was a fairly small ice cream manufacturer, with about $30 million in sales. Because they got a lot of press about their unique management style, employees flocked to the company - at one point, they had a 3 year waiting list of people hoping to get jobs in any position at their Burlington, Vt., plant.

Many companies we see are concerned when a big, well-known company sets up shop nearby, and this is a valid concern. Such companies have a great intangible advantage in hiring -- potential employees feel more secure that they know what they are getting into when they join high profile firms. For smaller companies, this is a problem, because it? s often difficult to create awareness of your company and its strengths as an employer.

? The industry
Industries can be considered attractive for several reasons. Many people want to work in entertainment businesses because they think it will be fun. Others seek academic careers because they desire intellectual stimulation. And, of course, many many people want to work in Internet businesses today because they think they can become very wealthy there. Most of us can? t do much about our industries, but we can portray our industries in the best possible light.

? The nature of the work itself
Many jobs carry inherent rewards. It? s easier for a teacher to feel good about doing a good job than it is for a meter maid. In addition, different types of people enjoy different types of work. Shy people don? t usually enjoy sales, and people with weak quantitative skills don? t often find accounting fun.

? Job title
Titles don? t always mean that much, but they certainly have an impact where people outside of an organization are concerned. Employees are likely to be more proud of their jobs if their titles sound good to friends and family. In addition, employees will tend to feel better about themselves with ? better? titles, because they will feel more positively about identifying with their jobs. More important than title, in many cases, is the feeling of empowerment you give employees. Even a lofty title won? t improve the morale of an employee who feels powerless and crushed by micromanagement. Beyond this, it is critical that employees feel that they are part of the exciting future that you are creating for your company. Broad involvement in the creation of strategic planning homework (especially action plans) is tremendously useful for empowering employees at all levels of your organization.

Published on: Jul 24, 2001