What’s Your Next Employer’s Signature Experience?

Beyond the razzle-dazzle of beer bashes and company play days, “every company needs a signature experience that sets it apart.” That’s the thrust of a Harvard Business Review article called “What It Means to Work Here” by Tamara J. Erickson of the Concours Institute and Prof. Lynda Gratton of London Business School.

In other words, why spend the prime time of your life at Hyundai when you could be at Honda? Or at Novo Nordisk when you could be at Pfizer? True, it helps focus your decision when one company wants you and its competitor does not.

The authors state that “people also choose jobs-and, more important, become engaged with their work-on the basis of how well their preferences and aspirations mesh with those of the organization.” I’m not sold on that thesis, however. It is difficult at best to both assess corporate culture before we take a job and determine whether it meshes with our sensibilities, too.

On the other hand, it’s nice when your personal and your employer’s “preferences and aspirations” are in alignment. Philosophically, have fun, get rich sounds appealing to me, but quite possibly that sentiment doesn’t guide senior executives.

Yahoo! is an example of corporation that offers excellent global career opportunities, yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. Libby Sartain, former VP People, at Yahoo! knows something about employee engagement. She was the head of human resources for Southwest Airlines in 1998 when it scored first in the annual 100 Best Companies to Work for in America competition. “Culture is still a competitive advantage,” wrote Sartain in Fast Company. “Identify what are your cultural imperatives. Embrace that. Not every company can have a purple cow in the lobby.”

Okay, that sounds a bit extreme, but what Sartain is talking about is a “signature experience,” one that is unique to an employer such as Yahoo! From any company’s standpoint, the payoff of obtaining your loyalty and commitment (called ‘engagement’) is considerable. When you’re highly committed, you often selflessly donate your discretionary time – longer hours and more creative output. But the catch is not that many of us are highly engaged. The Towers-Perrin Global Workforce study of 86,000 employees found that only 14 percent of workers are “willing to go the extra mile to help their companies succeed.”

Erickson and Gratton observe in the article that “engaged employees are the antithesis of hired guns rotating in and out of critical roles-they’re productive for the long term.” It’s a virtuous cycle that all of us hope to find. If you’re committed, you’re generally seeing the rewards and recognition that are keys to your career success.

Yet, one reality of the modern multinational company is that it is difficult for workers to feel engaged when ground zero of corporate culture is based thousands of miles away.