It is far easier to say what you want than it is to create the conditions to get what you want.
I’ve been consulting clients in some form or fashion for the last 14 years and over that time, I’ve noticed something. Whenever I’m doing an assessment or an inquiry with a new client — which is the basis of most of my work as a strategist — the initial responses I often get back are not deep and thoughtful, but rather something entirely predictable. This is not a criticism, it’s an observation.
It’s not until we go several more rounds of investigation that we actually extract something meaningful and unique. What usually follows is a realization of just how much work needs to be done to execute these new and unique insights. The project is either then abandoned in favor of the easy route: doing nothing and preserving the status quo, or it is implemented in a watered-down way so as to render it a fruitless exercise.
Let me give you some tangible examples and then let’s work through an alternative approach.
Are you hiring right now? What kind of candidate are you looking for?
When given the opportunity to envision their ideal employees, most owners, and managers will list off a garden variety of predictable traits, such as hard-working, responsible, loyal, ambitious, high attention to detail, creative, professional, great positive attitude, and so on…
All businesses want this because, obviously, why wouldn’t they? But if we’re just going to paint the picture of the perfect worker robot, we may as well throw in that the ideal candidate also chooses to work for free, and shouts company praise from the rooftops every weekend.
Let’s agree to be honest. A job is a transaction. The worker sells their time to the company in exchange for a fee. In return for that fee, the company expects a certain set of deliverables and job responsibilities to be fulfilled. That’s the transaction.
The Transaction and the Price
So, if we want people to give more than the minimum, we have to provide something in return, don’t we?
- When we say that we want someone loyal, what are we doing to earn that loyalty?
- When we say we want someone hard-working, 1) how are we defining “hard work” and 2) what actual reason are we giving them to work hard?
- When we say we want someone ambitious, does that mean we are willing to take someone on whose ambition exceeds what our organization can offer, or will their drive make them a liability? Do we even know how we’ll feed and satisfy that ambition?
- When we say we want someone creative, or with a positive attitude, what are we doing to create an environment where those attributes can continue and thrive past the date of hire?
Every trait we are looking for comes with a price, and most often that price isn’t baked into the salary. Even when some of it is, there’s only so much a salary can pay for. At a certain point, the candidate’s wallet may be satisfied, but their spirit is left to wither.
There’s very little at stake to describe the ideal employee, who would be the perfect embodiment of these wonderful and idealized things. It takes a bit more courage to ask yourself if the company is worthy of this sort of person. The important work that comes next is identifying the real traits of someone who would be a perfect fit for your company — outside of the obvious. We have to dig deeper and identify the real attributes that we can actually afford.
When I ask a company about its values, I either look up to see the word integrity painted on the wall in a fancy cursive font, or I’m given a list of the same words used as Brand values by such notable companies as Enron, LuLaRoe, or Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities.
There’s obviously nothing wrong with integrity, innovation, or excellence. The problem is when the exercise is treated like a vocabulary test instead of an act of introspection. Choosing words is easy. Spend a few hours in a room with a Brand Strategist who reads a few books every year, and you’re walking out with a solid list. But, just like the hiring exercises above the question remains: how are you going to deliver?
If we’re to build great companies, hire amazing team members, or cultivate an authentic personal brand, there’s work to be done beyond listing off what is top of mind.
We need to dig past the predictable.
How to Dig Past Predictable
I have a simple tip for you.
- If you really want people who are ambitious, hard-working, and loyal;
- If you really want people who are creative, professional, and positive;
- If you really want to promote brand values like integrity, excellence, and innovation…
Then you need to go past saying it. Here’s how:
- For EACH attribute or value listed, write down no less than 3 things your company will make sure to do in order to earn the right to say it.
- For EACH attribute or value listed, write down no less than 3 things that your company will make sure to never do in order to never lose the right to say it.
Start there. Start by putting actions behind the words. Start by having the courage to dig a little deeper past predictable, and earn the right to say the words you say.