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Today's Top Talent Will Only Work for a Company That Stands for Something

Hint: Ad men and PR spin doctors need not apply.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most large corporations, especially in the Fortune 500, have coasted for too long on the talent front, over-relying on brand recognition created by ad men in a bygone era. Even as many have embraced digital transformation and strategic sponsorships to stay relevant with younger customers and employees, there still exists a large perception gap between Boomer and Gen X execs and their Millennial employees about employee brand.

Luis Alvarez | Getty Images

For starters, Millennials don't trust governmental and others institutions, nor large corporations, given socio-political and income stagnation. Moreover, they give greater weight to a company's social mission -- or lack thereof -- when deciding whether to buy from or work for a certain company. It's no longer enough for a company's HR strategy to hinge on spun PR, a few photo-ops and campus visits, while throwing money and short-term perks at new recruits.

In our age of social media and self-righteous outrage, word travels fast, both good and bad. One slip-up by a large brand like United or Uber can see to it the brand suffers with customers and becomes radioactive to top talent. Sometimes irreparably.

EX marks the new bull's eye.

In the last few years, customer experience (CX) has become a critical concern for brands desperate for relevance and engagement. By this point, 90 percent of brands compete on customer experience.

The next frontier, according to Forbes, is employee experience (EX). Calling 2018 the "Year of Employee Experience," they assert that brands must now apply the principles of CX to attract, retain, develop their Millennial and Gen Z employees to make them brand ambassadors and leaders.

Related: Why We Replaced (In)Human Resources with 'Employee Experience'

To do this effectively, brands must stop being reactive. Millennials do care a great deal -- and significantly more than Gen X and Boomers, on average -- about corporate social responsibility, says Huffington Post. With already short average Millennial tenures shrinking further, plus a strong economy and high job mobility, brands must pro-actively optimize the employee experience (EX) at every stage to remain compelling to top talent.

Elevating EX.

To do this, companies must start from Maslow's hierarchy as rewritten for the workplace. This includes a competitive salary and health and financial benefits for each employee, as well as strategic (rather than short-term) perks specifically relevant to each employee. Beyond this, founders must create a mission-centered culture of transparency with clear organizational values (such as a "No A-Hole Rule," for instance).

Related: How to Engage Employees Through Your Company Vision Statement

They should encourage optimal utilization of talent internally by facilitating internal mobility, opportunity creation and side-project involvement by employees. As a rule, smart and strategic management stays mostly out of top talent's way. Effective management provides quick and frank feedback and iteration for all, while fostering a culture that continually cultivates the regular celebration of wins, large and small, by all team members.

Optimizing individual talent.

Going higher in Maslow's hierarchy for the workplace, brands must create ample opportunity for top talent to engage in personal and professional development, including time set aside to work on personal projects, much like Google has done for years. These opportunities must be carefully tailored for each employee. They mustn't be canned or irrelevant to an employee's individual career trajectory.

One of the best ways to help each employee become the best version of him- or herself is to pay for a coach of their choice to help develop their career, leadership and/or business skills. Personalized attention and the attendant investment tangibly shows the employee that the company truly cares about him or her as a principle, enough to invest significant resources and time.

Related: A 'Culture of Coaching' Is Your Company's Most Important Ingredient for Success

Last, but not least, a great employer brand in our age must build a broader, more diverse and inclusive umbrella for employees and customers. This starts with hiring under-represented talent that thinks, works and sees the world differently than over-represented demographics -- then getting out of their way, so they can do their best work and help your brand access new markets and customers, to create new revenue.

Above all, building a compelling employer brand is strongly aligned with improving the bottom line. As such, it should not be viewed as a drain on time and resources. Rather it is a strategic organizational transformation, one intended to increase the brand's relevance to customers and employees, which will in turn lead to better performance and to happier shareholders and board.

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