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Your Employees Will Leave If You Don't Have Values — Why Organizational Identity is the New Hiring Battlefield Implementing these three steps will help you craft a compelling identity statement and perform in identity-congruent ways, thus helping you attract talent committed to a common set of ideals and ways of being.

By Sam Rockwell

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding organizational identity is no longer a nice to have.
  • Instead, understanding, communicating, and acting on identity is now a talent management imperative.
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Bruce was baffled. "How did I get into this situation?" he wondered. He urgently needed some additional talent for a vital but understaffed project and was relieved when he was awarded more headcount. But his relief had turned to confusion. Somehow, the tables had been turned, and he found himself in the hot seat.

Shortly after the interview began, the young professional sitting across from him began asking him questions. First, he was asked to describe the firm's position on George Floyd. Then, he was asked to relay what the firm was doing related to climate events — other questions related to company actions on social issues ranging from geopolitical events to inequity. Bruce didn't know what to say, and his difficulty answering left him squirming. Afterward, he was left with a foreign, uneasy feeling that he had been underprepared.

According to executive coach and consultant Michael Fischer, these are the experiences hiring managers across organizations have increasingly faced within the last five years when searching for talent — with most managers "failing" the interview. Young employees have flipped the script: Today, they weigh and evaluate prospective employers as carefully as employers evaluate them. When hiring managers cannot answer their questions about organizational identity, young talent moves on. Fischer summarized his observations by saying there was a war for talent — but the war is over, and talent has won.

These experiences reveal that, as organizational leaders, we cannot afford to be unaware or inarticulate about what is central, distinctive, and enduring about our organizations. Although brand identity has long been an element of strategy and marketing, we now must be equally clear about the messages we're speaking internally to our employees. While a positive and distinctive organizational identity attracts talent as well as the support and loyalty of our existing employees and stakeholders, lack of clarity or communication about identity can compromise our success and sustainability.

Further, identity affects talent management not only among the young and at the frontlines but also extends to those at the highest levels of the organization. For example, H&R Block's current CEO, Jeff Jones, left the post of president at Uber after only six months: despite his initial attraction to its mission and strategic challenges, he soon discovered differences with the company's core values he could not reconcile. While turnover at any level is costly, such changes at a senior level can send shockwaves through the entire organization.

Related: Why Finding Your Place Is a Powerful Tool for Success

With identity-based talent management now an unavoidable imperative, here are three steps for enacting this aligning your organization:

1. Know and communicate where your company stands

Unlike years past, employees now demand to know where their organizations stand on critical issues, such as social justice, geopolitical tensions, and more. Companies can no longer leave these conversations at the door. Fischer warned that not taking a stand can be as damaging as taking a stand that conflicts with some employees' or employment candidates' views. For example, although communicating the organization's views in advance may reduce the candidate pool or prompt a candidate to decline an offer, this is preferable to costly turnover once the employee discovers who the organization really is.

Sysco made this clarity about its identity and purpose a priority in early 2020. Over several months and with significant effort, the CEO, executive team, and senior leadership of global talent management collaborated to craft an 11-word purpose statement: Connecting the world to share food and care for one another.

To reach this clarity about your organization, begin to uncover identity by gathering the stories, milestones, and other artifacts that start to reveal the character of your organization and then identify the recurring themes surrounding what core, distinctive, and enduring about it is.

Related: Why We Should Be Talking About Organizational Identity and Not Just Company Culture

2. Evaluate identity-based positioning on key issues

Renewed clarity about your organization's identity enables you to understand where it stands on various issues and then to communicate and act accordingly. In the case of Sysco, having clarified its purpose, it could message differently inside the company, decide where to invest its resources outside the company and identify the issues that were important to them.

When you clarify your purpose, managers can answer candidates' questions about who and what your company stands for. Once you have identified what is core, distinctive, and enduring about your organization, you can contemplate pressing social issues in light of these. While your organization may support some causes, it is possible that it may not align with other causes and may be neutral related to still other causes.

Related: 5 Ways to Uncover the Identity of Your Organization

3. Determine identity-congruent actions in crisis

The lasting takeaway of COVID-19 is that we may never know when the next crisis will hit or what its nature will be. For example, Sysco's crisis planning scenarios neglected to account for a total system failure where all restaurants worldwide were affected at the same time by the same thing, resulting in Sysco's sales dropping significantly overnight. Yet, this crisis prompted the CEO to begin the search for Sysco's identity. Their newfound clarity ultimately enabled them to rise to the challenges of decimated sales by creating "grocerants," where restaurants temporarily sold some grocery staples. This identity-aligned action relieved Sysco while helping restaurants stay in business and addressing neighborhood food shortages caused by the broken grocery store supply chain. Knowing your organization's identity may help you weather the next storm.

Understanding organizational identity is no longer a nice to have. Instead, understanding, communicating, and acting on identity is now a talent management imperative. Implementing the three steps outlined above will help you craft a compelling identity statement and perform in identity-congruent ways, thus helping you attract talent committed to a common set of ideals and way of being.

Sam Rockwell

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO at Rockwell&Co

Sam Rockwell is a consultant, coach, and author specializing in helping medium to large businesses across sectors, industries, and the globe dramatically scale their results and profits by using the lens of identity to optimize their strategies, leadership development, and team performance.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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