MANAGING PEOPLE The Dating Game: Ask now – sign later

Jennifer cautiously eyed the man sitting opposite her. Gary looked at least five years older than his internet profile but seemed to have nice personality.
As the night passed, the music wove throughout their conversation. Favourite films? Religious beliefs? Political views? The questions people ask when they’re genuinely curious about each other. And then…
“Do you have references?” asked Jennifer. Gary gaped. “References?”
“From ex-girlfriends, ex-wives,” she explained. “And anyone else you’re seeing at the moment.”

It’s bad form at blind date, but increasingly recommended for candidates seeking senior management positions. (After all, you probably spend more waking hours on the job than you do with potential Mr or Ms Right, right?)
When candidates ask organisations for references, you know it’s tight labour market. The Ministry of Labour’s annual SERA (Survey of Employers who have Recently Advertised) found fill rates of advertised professional jobs had slipped from 71 percent in 2003 to just 54 percent last year.
For its 2005 salary survey, Hays Personnel Services asked 1700 companies in Australia and New Zealand which areas they were having difficulty recruiting for. Top of the list was senior management in accounting and finance, with 18 percent of respondents acknowledging difficulty in recruiting for this area. This is significant jump from only eight percent in the 2004 survey.
Kim Smith is general manager of recruitment firm Robert Half Finance and Accounting, and says most companies today realise the need to actively sell themselves to candidates. But there are still some, she says, who don’t get it. “Once in while you come across company that still feels the candidate should sell themselves into the job,” says Smith. “They need to realise all good candidates will have options; they’re evaluating one company against another.”
A report from Hays Personnel Services on “Creating an Employment Brand” says businesses need to pay more attention to their employer brands. But the report warns against seeing brand as simply logo, saying, “the message needs to be more complete – the culture, values and environment are of much greater interest to potential employees”.
Smith couldn’t agree more, and says companies that know and demonstrate their values attract loyalty from people with similar values. “I’ve seen candidates stay with companies where they’re tremendously underpaid in the marketplace,” she says, “but they love what the company stands for.”
Rosemary Hume, managing director of training organisation Rogen, says shared values can drive energy, commitment and loyalty. “A stronger sense of belonging and making difference leads to increased performance and organisational results,” says Hume. “Staff who can bring their ‘whole’ selves to work are more committed, creative, tolerant and happy.”
A values mismatch, on the other hand, can lead to bad business outcomes. “If an individual’s personal values are not aligned with the organisation,” says Hume, “there is increasing frustration, loss of energy, low morale and high stress; and reduced commitment can result.”
Executive coach Kevin McMahon, partner at Blue Chip Coaching, argues that it’s not the end of the world if there’s difference in values. “Conflict often occurs not as result of different values,” he says, “but as result of those different values not being understood.” For example, CEO who primarily values profitability and senior manager who primarily values customer satisfaction can compromise by maximising profitability in way that satisfies customers.
Christie Clark, managing director of management consultancy Firstinsite, says role that lets people be “who they are” encourages greater productivity.
“One executive showed an increase of 657 percent in productivity when moved to firm that was aligned to their value set,” she says. According to Clark, the key is organisations showing their “soul”.
But how does an organisation find its soul?
It starts by knowing exactly what its values are; and they are not discovered around meeting room table. Instead, says Todd August, managing director of recruitment advertising firm TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications, companies should be asking three questions.
Firstly, says August, companies should ask why employees enjoy working for them. “This will give an organisation reality check on what their employment experience is all about,” he says. “In my experience very few companies can tell you this with any accuracy whatsoever, mostly because their employees won’t tell them for fear of it impacting on their future opportunities.”
August’s second values-revealing question: What are your leadership aspirations as to how the organisation is perceived as an employer? “This will give the company an understanding of the gaps between employee reality and the future aspirations of that company’s leadership team,” says August.
Thirdly, August recommends asking potential employees their opinion of the company’s employment offering. “This will give the company the information about the obstacles they need to overcome to influence the future decisions of employees about joining,” he concludes. Doing the research makes for far more strategic and proactive approach to attracting talent.
Once companies know their values, it’s matter of living – and actively communicating – them. Both aspects are of equal importance: we’ve all heard about companies with fantastic mission statements where the reality fails to match up. But equally missing out are companies with vibrant culture and people-centred values that fail to promote their culture and values explicitly.
Smith says the company website is often overlooked as an outlet for the employer brand – after all, it is usually the first thing potential employee checks out. “Companies need to take hard look at their website to see if it truly portrays the company as it is,” she says.
In August’s book, another way to boost the employer brand is to incentivise employees who are already excited about the workplace. “Let’s face it,” he says, “despite what most recruitment companies tell you, most appointments in New Zealand, particularly outside the major cities, happen by word of mouth.” August says conversation around Saturday afternoon barbecue can have “a huge impact on the way that business is thought of”.
Author, speaker and consultant Denis Orme says it’s not just shared values that are important but also shared goals. “Is there common belief in the vision for the company?” he asks. “Who is interested in the manager and their career growth?”
McMahon says top-level commitment to an organisation’s future will appeal to candidates. “They will be asking themselves, ‘How committed is the board and/or leadership to this business and its future success? What is their big hairy audacious goal?’”
Orme recommends potential hires look into the mindsets present in the organisation, for instance long-term or short-term focus, defensiveness around information, or ‘do it first, fix it later’ mindset.
“Are there blurred responsibilities in relation to strategy and operations between the board and senior management team? Is implementation success or actual performance directly tied back to the vision for the organisation?” he asks. Other areas to watch for include “sacred cows. These may be untouchable people, managers, business processes, or in some cases branch locations.”
Finally, Orme recommends candidates look into whether ethical values are reflected in financial reporting standards. “If there is not good access to this type of information by talking to people throughout the organisation, this factor alone highlights the state of the present culture,” he says.


WHAT TO LOOK FOR
For years companies have required references on potential employees. In tight labour market – or in fact under any circumstance – employment candidates need to be just as circumspect about the

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