In today's world, employer reputation is an existential matter for businesses. Candidates now expect employers to prove their worth, and the straightforward recruitment initiatives of the 2010s have fallen away in favor of full-blown employer reputation efforts that drive critical business decisions.

People want safety, both physical and psychological, support, and a sense of purpose and belonging. And, increasingly, they are looking to their employers to provide these things for them. The top talent knows if they won't get it at your company, they can get it somewhere else.

A few years ago, companies were focused on promoting perks like Ping-Pong tables and free snacks. By contrast, employers right now are scrambling to figure out which states will ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned and determining, in cases where they have employees in those states, whether they will pay travel expenses or any other related costs for their female employees to receive the procedure in a state where it is legal.

If you haven't made this shift, stop what you're doing and reassess your priorities immediately.

We call it the war for talent because competition is fierce, and the stakes are higher than ever. And yet most employers are still making the one mistake that is the equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot.

The mistake: They focus solely on touting their pay and benefits, and miss the opportunity and, frankly, the mandate to clearly outline their broader value proposition as an employer.

There are six core, often misunderstood truths about today's talent market that leaders need to embrace:

Competitive compensation is important, but it's also table stakes.

Focusing solely on transactional offerings misses the point. Instead, the goal is to define your company's ethos -- its culture, its mission, its values -- and your benefits are just one proof point. Most important, people want to understand who you are and in turn, who they can be (and who they can become) if they choose to work with you. If someone decides to choose your role, it's because they've bought into more than just your compensation.

Winning the war is as much about retaining current talent as it is about attracting new talent.

One of the largest costs companies are grappling with is replacing talent. Those which focus all their efforts on recruitment at the expense of retention are setting themselves up for failure. Remember, employees do not just choose your company once when they accept your job offer, they actually choose it again every single day that they decide to stay. The worst thing you can do is take that decision process for granted.

Employer brand cannot succeed as an isolated HR responsibility.

This work touches every aspect of the business and should be approached accordingly. HR can create policies, but policies don't determine whether intra-team dynamics are productive or toxic, or how embraced a new employee from a minority group will feel. Policies can dictate protections, but they can't create trust. Only individual leaders can do that, which means your employer brand relies as much upon operations, finance, marketing, communications, compliance, sales, and every other department within your company to succeed as it does HR. Understanding that every leader at your executive table has a role to play is critical to victory.

You can't persuade people you don't reach.

Once you get the policies and the culture set, you must make sure the people who need to know about it actually do. The right mix of communication may be through internal and company-owned channels, outside news stories, or even targeted advertising to connect with your audience right where they are. When I was at Boeing, for example, I sometimes found the most effective way to reach our 70,000 employees in Washington State was to communicate through The Seattle Times versus the employee intranet.

In the war for talent, your audience isn't just "talent."

In 2022, the biggest brands are spending millions every month to target not only potential recruits, but also policymakers and investors with messaging about who they are as an employer. And it doesn't end there. Increasingly, if consumers are stepping into your stores, it's in part because they understand and respect the way you treat your employees.

Safe stances are rarely winning stances.

When you take bold actions like ending business ties with Russia, never again requiring employees to come to the office, or taking tangible stands against oppressive legislation, you will earn detractors, but you will also develop fiercely loyal followers. The key is to keep the protection and support of your employees at the core of your decisions, to know your base, and to filter any statements you make through the lens of what skin you actually have in the game. Any instances of perceived hypocrisy or lip service without supporting action are not only unhelpful but can be severely damaging.

Time and again I hear from brands, many of which are clients, that their biggest deficit is that "people do not know how excellent their benefits package is."

Many times they're right that people don't know every perk that would be available, but where these executives are wrong is that this is their biggest issue. Leading with benefits is like bringing the proverbial knife to a gunfight.

What I tell them is that the only two things you really need prospects to understand is that you share their values and will help them grow. And you can't just show them, you must convince them. Success or failure at making your case can mean the difference between  the success or failure of your entire business.