Jason discusses the trend towards putting talent issues ahead of external branding activity.
Having written recently about my own experiences of smart CEOs investing in 'Employer' before 'Customer' branding to achieve their objectives, I was fascinated to read a Harvard Business Review article which puts forward a convincing theory on how some of the world's top CEOs have managed to outperform their peers - by focusing on engagement of their employees.
In a nutshell, the authors argue powerfully that their research amongst high-performing CEOs across the world demonstrates that an unusually high degree of focus on employee engagement is critical to their success. These 'High Ambition' CEOs have been able to create sustained competitive advantage by connecting the firm's strategy to the needs and passions of its people - creating emotional attachment. They achieve their agendas by doing three things - one of which is "building widespread commitment to their vision by nurturing a community of shared purpose amongst their people". Yes, each had a focused, clearly articulated vision, but across each of the organisations they also had a broad range of talent and engagement initiatives that have enabled and energised their people to deliver against these visions.
Campbell Soup's CEO Doug Conant is cited as a powerful example. Conant brought the business back from the brink, with his "Campbell Success Model". As Conant put it, "If you're not winning in the workplace, you can't win in the marketplace in a sustainable way…". He believed that outperforming the market would require the business to fix its "horribly neglected" workplace experience for every employee. He established just two performance metrics to drive the business; one of which was employee engagement index scores. The business ultimately achieved a score that massively outperformed the world-class ratio (10:1 engaged to actively disengaged employees).
At Volvo Group CEO Leif Johansson achieved transformation through a variety of bold and dramatic measures, including completely re-shaping the organisational culture. He reinvigorated an existing values programme; developed "The Volvo Way", addressing culture, values and behaviours; and made sure it drove hiring and promotion decisions. Based on his deeply held belief that people seek meaning in their work, he overcame cynicism and effected genuine cultural change. He focused on Volvo as a social institution, powerfully building people's emotional attachment to his vision and building higher levels of mutual trust and respect.
Here's hoping a few CEOs actually read the article, and take up the challenge to put their talent strategies at the heart of their business strategies.