“How many of you have applied to a job and never heard back?”
When Sjoerd Gehring–former VP of Johnson & Johnson–lobbed this question at a room full of communication professionals at a conference in New York City, nearly every hand shot up. (Disclosure: Johnson & Johnson is a client of Batten & Co.)
“If I can see exactly where my dinner is on its way to my house on a Friday night,” he said, “then why shouldn’t I know where my job application is in a company’s HR system?”
It was the perfect metaphor to describe what’s happening to all of us. Companies, technologies, and cultural movements influence our “new norms” every day, and they’re starting to impact how job seekers and employees view employers. Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping guarantee set a new expectation about ordering anything online and getting it fast. Seamless, Domino’s, and FedEx’s order tracking systems have trained us to expect an up-to-the-minute view of any shipment’s journey. Companies like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s are shaping our expectations about what it means to “subscribe” to everyday products.
This sentiment was present in the six-month research that the Batten team conducted. We spent nearly six months studying the future of work and interviewed more than 1,300 prospective hires in six markets from the U.S. to Brazil. In particular, we found that there are two critical expectations that the best employees have.
“I expect you to keep no secrets”
People expect companies to leave their doors open and keep no secrets. These days, people expect transparency in the workplace.
When he was at Johnson & Johnson, Gehring became acutely aware of how vital this expectation has grown in the world of work. It’s what led his team to launch Shine, a web app to help J&J’s 30,000 annual job applicants track every step of their application journey, much like they would monitor a package delivery on FedEx. If an applicant doesn’t land the job, Shine provides helpful tips on how to improve the next time around. After the app went live, Gehring said that Johnson & Johnson Talent’s Net Promoter Score went up 20 basis points.
But you don’t have to build a sophisticated web app to be transparent. Online clothier Everlane, for example, hosts “Transparency Tuesday,” a weekly Snapchat series where followers can ask them anything, from how to get a job at the company, to how they treat their factory workers.
But you can’t just be transparent on sunny days. It’s how you behave on the rainy days that matters most. Facebook has taken great strides to become more transparent to its users, but recent reporting about how senior leadership downplayed evidence of Russian manipulation suggests otherwise. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, tech journalist Kara Swisher argued that when it appears a company “wants to hold on to its power rather than be honest about its faults,” it’s one of the greatest threats to innovation. I’d add that it’s one of the fastest ways for current and prospective employees to lose faith in you.
“I expect you to live your purpose”
When companies and brands I choose really live its purpose, and act on it, I feel positive about supporting them. When it isn’t “self-serving”, but comes from an authentically held belief, it’s particularly impactful.
We see examples of this everywhere, every day–like CVS Health’s decision to stop selling tobacco as a way to reaffirm their mission to “shape the future of healthcare.” They did this even though tobacco product generated $2 billion in revenue. Patagonia, a longtime environmental activist, recently announced the company would donate its $10 million in the money they gained from tax cuts to grassroots environmental organizations.
We know employees feel the exact same way. They expect you to live your purpose behind the scene. They want to see leaders integrating company values in day-to-day decisions, which includes recruiting talent and designing policies on customer data.
As these expectations impact how employees view their work, it’s forced many companies to take a hard look at current organizational processes and assess what might be out of sync with their stated purpose. Google just recently got a taste of this after watching its employees stage a walkout to protest company policy of forced arbitration in sexual harassment claims. Ultimately, the company ended this policy. Soon after, Facebook, Airbnb, and eBay followed suit.
It’s important to recognize that other companies outside your immediate competitive set may be setting a new high bar for your company. You need to pay attention to these new norms, learn and adapt. But, in the race to attract and keep good talent, it’s not enough to look left and right to see what your competitors are doing. You have to zoom out to 30,000 feet to get an accurate picture of how cultural, societal, and workplace norms are changing. Know that today’s worker is influenced and encouraged by the experiences, movements, and moments of their own lives, from how we communicate with coworkers (thanks, Slack), to how they trust fellow drivers to help find the best route home (thanks, Waze). Finding ways to espouse these “new norms” at every level–and enabling your staff to do the same–is the only way to attract and retain the best.
Tracy Lovatt is the CEO of Batten & Co., a strategic consultancy serving companies ranging from Johnson & Johnson to Tiffany & Co.