People don’t care what company they work for.

Brutally honest on why your star talents leave your company.

Disclaimer: This article is my personal opinion. Based on experience and research, of course, but still. Please, do read this twice.
I realize some bits of the text below might hurt somebody’s “corporate” feelings. I might suggest you deal with it.

You (as company management) lose people because you don’t care about people. Let’s dive into it now.

So, I happen to write these articles series belonging to my “Brutally honest” theme once in a while. This time – I believe – that is because in the corporate world we all are spending so much time to multiply the amount of bullshit to an extent where we are losing reality completely. Isn’t it odd how fast some completely theoretical ideas can take over a major part of our day to day conversations, take so much time from us and give so little in return?

Here’s what I’m talking about in particular. It’s a common perception today that a company you work for is your friend, or your family even, and it’s very good if it is your hobby too. I lost my count how many times I heard “We are like a little family here” nonsense from hiring managers. (Just sidenote. My family are the closest persons to me, who have proven many times that they are not going to let me go because of “current year bad financial outcome resulting organization restructure”). Or how many times I had to listen to “friendly culture”, “people-focused” monologues. Documents handed to new hires by HR are full of it. This is what we hear on all-hands calls or other kinds of enterprise-wide meetings when the “culture” or “strategy” is presented. This is what we read in numerous articles on Linkedin and any company’s web. This is what we discuss at follow-up meetings with our teams (“To cascade the initiative down”). This is what you suppose to have clever feedback on when asked. We live it, so you better care a lot about it. But do you? Really? And if the answer is yes, I would love to know why.

So, I feel like I have to give some respect back by starting honest discussions. And – even more important – I want to get the job done, I want to actually be achieving results. This requires an understanding of what actually is important because the reality is where you have to start. (The reality, in its turn, doesn’t care what are the latest corporate beliefs today).

And the reality is that people don’t care what company they work for.

The truth is simple. The concept of a company: the “culture”, the “values”, the “strategy” – all of it – is too big and not directly applicable to everyday tasks people do at their work.

Here comes another “piece” of reality: the majority of companies market themselves as unique and different. They are not. They just can’t be by nature. Companies copy (and I mean copy) each other’s business models, their operational models come from the same books written by the same university professors, they copy each other’s processes and not even always call them different names, they are having the same business structures… Look at job announces – they even promote themselves to the jobs market with the same texts. Many times I read something like this: “How we are different. We offer possibilities to develop your career in big, intensive, international, rapidly growing and challenging environments”, or “We offer a market competitive salary, bonus, insurance plan, career development in our global curriculum”…  Doesn’t every company just do exactly what I read? And why the texts are so alike? Because there is nothing more to it. With the maturity of industry come standards. And for human beings it’s hard to care much about something that standardized. That is where we have to start the journey from bullshit to what is real.

So, what people do really care about?

  1. When joining, people care about the power of company’s logo.

    Mathematically, it’s a sum of negative/positive impressions on the web and word-of-mouth channels. Company’s history, product portfolio, personas onboard, economic performance, salary rates, Glassdoor reviews, news… All of it is in here. People do care about what company they join.

  2. People care about the team they will be part of. (As this is very important, I’ll spend some time here).

  • Is there a team lead who cares? Team lead that gives right and properly balanced amount of negative/positive attention – that is.
  • Are there colleagues to learn from?
    Is there documented evidence on how skilled the team is? Is there a formal or informal leader who owns the vision and is executing it?
  • Is this a place to use my strength every day?
  • Are these the colleagues and managers who will cover my back?
    I always observe very closely what happens in a company internally when things go wrong with customer-facing projects/engagements. Apart from exceptional cover-my-own-ass skills what else is there to see? Fear-operated managers looking for someone to blame? Solving problems by removing people approach? Freezeout of the person “responsible for the mistake”? A bullshit filled “feedback” because no one dares to say the truth?
  1. People care about tooling.

I’m working in IT. I’ve been a part of some “constantly innovating” (as they describe themselves) organizations. And they were “heavily investing in their people” as their Powerpoint slides were telling. These two compelling concepts were presented once to me on 5 years old laptop by 23 years old HR agent who has been with the company for “six months soon”. This is exactly the way of risking your most potential hire to a competitor. Intelligent people are disturbingly fast at indicating how far your cost optimization initiative has gone and where your actual investments are. In my case, they definitely were not put into at least the tools people use. I can talk about it for years… Give your people good tooling, period. They spend at least 8 hours a day operating these laptops, looking at them, carrying them in bags, producing “mission-critical”, “highly prioritized”, “value-generating” products of yours. The tooling better be good at least. It’s better be ergonomic, easy to operate, fast, with good connectivity. It’s better not to irritate my eyes every single time I place it on my table.
The laptop example is only one of many. Internal systems designed before I was born, processes that drive people mad, fights over educations people should get to stay relevant, policies that made sense in 1982, requirements where help is needed instead…

  1. People care about the pay.

Money is not everything, right? Wrong. Money is not everything when looking at life as a whole. Do you live your life at your work? I hope not. In that case, talking about money from the entire meaning of life standpoint is not relevant. From the perspective of work, money is why we show up in the office. The job is an activity you get paid for because you wouldn’t be doing it voluntarily otherwise.

Let’s address the obvious. Apart from the fact that the figure on the payslip is a predictor of my pension, quality of my next vacation, freedom to work less when needed, that number is an indicator of how valuable I’m to the company. It’s a benchmark showing I’m still doing my work well (or not).

We really shouldn’t forget – money is everything for any business. That’s why people do it. And this is very well reflected in every job interview I was present. How come managers love to complain about the fact that salaries are “already the biggest cost for the business” (completely neglecting the fact that salaries go to the people who make the revenue possible as such)? How come that we leave our dearest ones, our families, to spent the most productive hours of the day with nearly strangers doing things we could have lost interest of 10 years ago?

So, people care about those “competitive salaries” every single day they are at work.

  1. People care about your dignity as a company towards your workers.

Have you promised something or made an impression on the hiring interview and then completely “forgot” about everything? Will your new hire see already the first week that instead of “innovative”, “caring”, “people-focused”, “forward-thinking”, he is onboarded into the same “business” as usual he just run away from at the previous workplace? The classics here are: “No, overtime hours are at the minimum here” or “You are getting the same salary every month” (and then it appears that this depends on many things your new hire has zero control over). Even better: “There are many possibilities here, we need someone exactly like you to give us as much input on how to build (whatever you’re building right now)!” And then you just send this consultant to a customer for 12 months right away and see him every other month on the “updates meeting”. That is the most secure way to destroy everything about motivation, that’s how you get the least involved employee of the year.

I hope, I managed to land my obvious point this time: escaping from what people truly care about at your workplace is not going to “lift company’s culture”, “make employer branding easier”, “create innovative workforce” or bring more projects. It’s not going to save you money on the long run either. On another side, meeting employee’s needs first will make us all legit to start speaking about “company’s values”, “growth strategies” or “involving on a daily basis”. Only that way nothing I put in quotes above will sound like bullshit.

Here is an idea that should get you thinking if you, as a hiring manager, really want to keep the star you just got. Why not treat people you manage as your company’s customers? Why not make their work-life as pleasant and easy as your customers have it?
More about that in one of my next posts.

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