When the job market is tight and people have fewer options, job seekers will ask the question: “What do I have to do to impress you?”
However, when job seekers have more choices — like they do right now — the power dynamic shifts. The question then becomes, “What will you do to impress me?” When workers can easily find jobs that meet their basic income and insurance needs, they are free to seek out jobs that also meet their higher-order needs for belonging, love, and self-actualization.
As a millennial, I understand my generation’s drive to find meaningful work. We were children when the twin towers fell on 9/11; we watched with shock and horror as thousands of people died just because they had gone to work that day. It was a gut-punch realization that life is short and, at times, senseless. Perhaps that’s why we’re driven to find work aligned with our values, work that gives us a sense of purpose.
Because this is a job seeker’s economy, employees are ready, willing, and able to search for jobs they find meaningful. If there isn’t a strong alignment between the company’s mission and the employees’ purposes and values in the workplace, those employees will likely go looking for organizations that better suit them.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows employees are quitting at higher and higher rates. When job seekers are more selective, how can your company position itself to be the employer they choose?
Lining Up for Alignment
Meaningful work is not just a matter of the company’s mission; it’s also about an empowering culture. When looking for jobs, people want to know they will be judged on their skills, not on their ability to navigate a system of appeasement. This is especially true for women and the members of underrepresented groups who often face political barriers to success but know how to work their tails off.
The search for meaningful work often means finding a company that minimizes office politics. Job seekers are drawn to companies with tight-knit teams and transparent, inclusive cultures. When evaluating their prospects, job seekers want to know that they’ll be able to trust their colleagues’ competencies and intentions — including those of the leadership team.
I have found that employees desire a connection with me as a person as well as a leader and CEO. That doesn’t mean I am best friends with every employee, but I do share enough of myself and my sense of mission to build genuine connections with every member of my team. Making that kind of connection gives you the chance to understand better your employees’ values. Once you have that understanding, you can use the following strategies to create a culture that aligns with those values:
1. Go on a Vision Quest
If your culture is ill-defined, you need to go on a vision quest for your values. This entails a multilevel conversation with your employees to learn what people at your company genuinely value.
For example, at Chewse, we gathered feedback from every single employee across the organization. Then, I met with my top leaders and we sifted through the information, applying our own lens of the kind of behavior we want to hire for and reward in the company. Our leadership team distilled our findings into two pillars of love and excellence, with each pillar including three values underneath it. These values include “Be direct with kindness” and “Own your personal growth.”
2. Prioritize Values in Hiring
Train managers on how to apply your company’s values in the hiring process. Build a bank of questions that interviewers can utilize to evaluate how well a job seeker’s values align with the organization’s. Make it clear to everyone that you only make offers to people who have both a values and a skills fit.
For us, this means that even if a stellar engineer with unparalleled coding skills wants to join the team but doesn’t share our values, we absolutely will not hire that person. That seems harsh, but it’s in everyone’s best interests: Employees who don’t fit your company culture are likely to leave after only a brief period of time. Selecting for values helps ensure a long-term hire.
3. Continue the Conversation
The company’s core values need to be part of everything that happens in the workplace, and employees need to understand how those values inform decision-making at every level. This means sharing stories about values and facilitating conversations around them.
At Chewse, we hold an all-hands meeting at the beginning of every week and highlight an example of someone in the company who is practicing one of our six values. We also set aside 20 minutes at the end of every week for gratitude. During this time, the entire company pauses to thank one another for living our values. It’s a powerful exercise that reinforces our culture and values while boosting morale. These two bookend practices keep conversations about values alive throughout the company.
4. Keep It Real
One of the best pieces of advice on leadership I ever received was, “Go first and be the most vulnerable.” This is easier said than done. It requires self-awareness to understand what you’re experiencing in the moment. Then, you have to quiet fears of appearing weak and have the courage to share your feelings. This doesn’t mean communicating every thought that pops into your head, but it does require leaning into uncomfortable conversations and sharing more nuance than you may be used to. When leadership is transparent with your team, it conveys trust and creates alignment.
You don’t have to fear high employee turnover in a job seeker’s market if you understand the dynamic of employees seeking self-actualization in their jobs and how that shapes their values. If your company’s values are clear and your hiring practice is informed by those values, you will attract candidates who want to belong. That is how you will stay aligned with your team’s hearts and keep people around for the long term.
Tracy Lawrence is the founder and CEO of Chewse, a service that delivers family-style meals to offices from the best local restaurants. Her vision is to transform transactional drop-off delivery into an inclusive meal experience that also gives back through meal donations. Chewse operates in Los Angeles; San Francisco; Silicon Valley, California; and Austin, Texas. Tracy has raised $30 million for her company and feeds thousands daily. Tracy also mentors female founders in technology, working to fulfill her personal mission of building a more authentically connected world based on vulnerability as a leadership philosophy.