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To Attract and Retain Talent, Companies Should Think Like Product Marketers and Managers
Rethinking the way we approach hiring and retaining talent in today’s world of work
Hello and Welcome!
If you’re new here, drop me a line to say hello. This week, I am riffing on concept that I’ve been writing about lately around the topic of helping employees navigate change and the future of work. If you have any thoughts I’d love to hear them!
A Go-To-Market Framework For Hiring and Retaining Talent
As companies grapple with the changing workplace, economic conditions, demographic shifts and the changing nature of desires of employees, one thing that is clear is that we need some new ways and ideas of thinking about how to attract and retain talent fit for today’s world of work.
When it comes to hiring & retaining talent, a helpful framework is to think about your company or the specific job as a product. Just as you are hiring an employee, an employee is also hiring you. Very much how we as consumers “hire” products and services we buy to solve a problem or fulfill a specific need.
The good news is that we have a whole slew of professionals who think about how to build and sell products that solve problems for their customers - product managers and product marketers.
Drawing from my time working with some of the top product marketers & managers, here is an approach that companies can start to think through so that they can think differently about attracting and retaining talent.
There are three main components to launching a product and selling it successfully
Go To Market - Who are you selling to? What segments of prospective talent are you reaching out to or targeting to come work at your company?
Product Development - What are you building? What is your product, what does it do? What are the key features and benefits of what your product (the specific job, or your company as whole) you offer to your potential employees? How does it solve their day to day needs?
Value Proposition - How are you making your customer’s life & career better? How are you making your customer’s life better? How are they becoming the hero of the story?
Let’s go deeper on them:
1)Go To Market: Who Are You Selling To?
When Sales and Go To Market teams inside tech companies do their job right, they select the right segments of customers who are interested in solving a problem that the product solves for.
A simple way to think about this is the segmentation exercise for targeting who wants to buy your product, what are their characteristics, and where do you find them?
In this case, this means finding the right pockets of individuals you want to get in front of for your role. As an example, if I am a law firm, my go to market strategy might be targeting specific law schools in a geographic region that is close to their office.
What most companies get wrong in this exercise is going to market for a world that once was, instead of going to market for a world that is today.
This means they focus solely on the past screening methods that worked before in a different age, such as solely focusing on years of experience, resume, and degree, versus looking at skills, aptitude and other measures. Even though many companies say they want to hire for skills, many still aren’t doing it.
I recently was speaking with an organization, who was trying to hire for a role who was struggling to get candidates. When I asked them about their go-to-market approach, they said they were using the exact same channels and job description as they did prior to 2020.
They complained about not getting the same type of candidates that they once did. Given how much the world has changed, I can’t see how they’d expect anything different. Drucker once said, “if you want something new, you must stop doing something old.”
Certainly, different jobs (products) may have a different go-to-market plan. And while I could argue that the past 3 years means that all companies should be looking at revisiting this, this was happening long before a global pandemic.
As industries go through massive shifts in their demographics and labor supplies or struggle with massive attrition and turnover, I think this is going to be an area that needs to be rethought.
This is also an area where if you are investing in DEI you’ll really want to think carefully about. So many people get shut out of the door for applying to roles because we’re relying on traditional mechanisms for our go-to-market.
Technology is already playing a role and this and there are some exciting things on the horizon here in this space, but the fundamental shifts that need to happen in terms of thinking about your hiring GTM are pretty significant.
2) Product Development: What are the features and benefits of your product?
The core of what you are giving to prospective employees. At a base level, this is a contract of employment, compensation, benefits, office working policy etc.
These are the elements and “features” of your product of employment, and what an employee evaluates with respect to how it views other products like yours, as well as if it meets their base needs.
Over the last decade, we’ve had an arms race in the product development space of the employee value proposition. We’ve focused extensively on the features and benefits so that we can attract the top candidates.
I think most of this is net-positive. The rise of digital technology and Linkedin/Glassdoor has promoted a new era of transparency and information exchange, and some of the actual benefits (ex: wellness, family planning, mental health) did not exist in previous decades and those are real and meaningful.
But the result of this especially in today’s changing world of work and amongst employees with new expectations means that the approach to product development needs to change. Here are some of the core issues
The Arms Race of Features and Benefits - When you try to win an arms race, you essentially try to be everything to everyone, which means it's hard to actually differentiate with your customer base to figure out what you resonate with. This is very similar to a product development team that tries to win over customers by just adding every feature imaginable. What do you actually provide?
Delivering on the features/benefits - A core element of any product is that it actually works, and that thing that you said it did, that it actually does. When you offer so many features and benefits, you also increase your odds that you are not actually going to be able to deliver on the promise you made with those features and benefits. We see this all the time - companies that say they value work-life balance, but don’t let their employees take vacation. Or companies that say they value DEI, but then their leadership team bio page suggests something differently.
Don’t get me wrong - features and benefits are still very important to job seekers - they want to be paid fairly, they want real benefits that take care of their safety, but I would say here that the two things most companies miss that they could improve upon are:
Less is more - Marketers and product development experts know that you cannot be everything to everyone - companies should focus and prioritize what they are actually offering that is going to drive meaningful value for their specific candidates in their GTM strategy
Differentiation - Along the lines of fewer things well, being able to differentiate and be clear about the features and benefits you are offering that are unique is also a place of improvement. Instead of getting into a “feature war” with another product (or company) you need to actually differentiate what you are offering so you can stand out with your specific segment.
Delivery - One of the reasons why companies fall short in this area is that they break their brand promise by saying one thing but not doing another. Just like you or I might get rid of a product that says it is durable but breaks on the first use, employees too will not stand for companies that promise one thing but deliver another (or don’t deliver it at all)
3) Value Proposition - How Are You Enhancing The Employee’s Career?
Any salesperson can tell you about the importance of talking about value versus features versus talking about features. The key to unlocking a sale is by making sure you articulate the value that the prospective customer will gain, not just the benefits.
On the surface, the features and benefits and value proposition seem similar. But to explain them I want to share how I think we’ve over indexed on the former versus the latter through a quote from Susan Lamotte:
“We've been talking about employment as a contract since the Industrial Revolution, treating employment as a transaction. When one party is unhappy, the relationship or transaction ends. This kind of transactional relationship is based on control--a tug of war, trading needs back and forth.
Imagine if you treated all your personal relationships this way. For instance, your spouse threatens divorce, so you try to woo them with an elaborate gift. Most often, that's not a sustainable, long-term solution. It doesn't bode well for a good personal relationship, and it no longer works for employment either.”
When an employee chooses a company, they are opting into a relationship with that company, that role, and the people within it. In return, they get a bunch of tangible and intangible value.
As Susan notes, simply appealing at the transactional layer of a relationship is going to signal to the employee that the relationship is in fact transactional. If that is what you want, then those are the results that you are going to expect.
But I don’t think that’s what all companies want or employees want. Instead of merely treating the value proposition as a transactional exercise, there is an opportunity to redefine both how we think about the value proposition, and what value actually gets delivered.
To reinvent the value proposition piece, we can take a page of what great marketers know, in that a marketer’s goal has more to do with the customer being a hero than of a great product.
The goal is not to show how great your product is, but rather, to demonstrate how your customer is the hero of their own story as a result of using their product.
Case in point, look at the “success” stories of any of these companies' pages and you’ll see what I mean. Take a look at Salesforce’s customer testimonials page. They literally have Heroes all over the page:
To deliver a value proposition that provides more than a transactional relationship to your employees, you want to think about how you are helping them become the hero of the story, and most likely, their story.
A few ideas of how this comes to life:
Wal-Mart is helping their associates become the hero through upskilling and economic opportunity
McKinsey isn’t a consulting business, but rather, an Executive Search Firm placing their former employees in Executive Positions
Pepsi helps high-achieving employees realize their potential and become heroes elsewhere
A few closing comments
Hopefully this was helpful in understanding how we can learn from product managers and product marketers and the principles they use to take great products to market and sell them to customers as a way to build better products (ex: hiring & retaining talent
A few more thoughts on this that might help bring this to life:
This is an incredibly Cross-functional project - One of the challenges with any major program like the Employer Value Proposition is that if done right there are a lot of teams and stakeholders involved. It’s not just an exercise in writing words on a website, it touches everything from sales, marketing and HR and many others.
One of my bigger takes on this is that one team that in particular needs to step up to the plate is the talent management and talent development team. So much of the employee value proposition today is shifting towards how working at a company is going to enhance the long term career and employability of an employee. This is an area of expertise that the talent and learning function can play in making sure that whatever is being marketed and sold to customers is actually delivered upon
Employee Value Propositions Require Continuous Renewal - Great brands know that you can’t just deliver a great customer experience once and then expect them to stay for life. Every interaction is a moment to continuously renew that belief that your customer has in your product and brand. We all use Amazon Prime because we know and expect that each time we order we can get that delivery in 2 days or less.
The same is true for any employee who is interacting with your employer brand. This is a continuous exercise that needs to be renewed continuously throughout the employee’s experience with your company. This is also why having a cross-functional lens to this project is also critical, because it really does touch every team in your organization
Finally, If you’re looking for some help for your learning and development, team meetings or professional development for next year, I’d love to work with you: Here is how I might be able to assist:
Team Trainings & Professional Development: Happy to facilitate training or professional development opportunity for your team & organization - common topics include: career development, influence without authority, effective relationship building, and stakeholder management
Support Your Offsites & Meetings: Speak or facilitate at your team’s offsite. Need a guide to facilitate or speak at an upcoming offsite, QBR or all hands? Happy to engage here.
Leadership & Learning Programs: Formal training and leadership development in your company, such as new manager or new leader training, or skill-based programs.
Feel free to contact me directly for more details!
That’s all for this week. Have a great week!