1st Impressions Count, 2nd Impressions Count, 3rd Impressions Count

Following on the foundation we laid of the simple flow model for relationships in the workplace – from initial Touch, to Integration of Ways, Strategic Purpose, Ultimate Productivity and finally Personally Invested Stakeholder/Shareholders – this article will explore the Touch component further.

To recap, Touch refers to the first meeting between individuals, the first ‘touch’ when people are exposed to and become cognisant of a person or an organisation or a brand. It includes all those initial contact moments, from the very first impression to the time when all parties choose to pursue a closer level of relationship.

1st Impressions: Employer Value Proposition

We all know first impressions count. This is as true in the business world as in personal relationships. Although a bad first impression can be remedied given more information or exposure (think Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice), it takes a lot more work and effort than creating and maintaining a good impression from the outset.

The world’s top employers and brands have all recognised the importance of the image they portray to potential customers, future employees and the world at large. According to SHRM, 84% of the world’s top 100 most attractive employers have one thing in common: a strong Employer Value Proposition (EVP).

In the attraction of top talent, a strong EVP goes a long way. In my 18+ years working in recruitment I have often heard, when presenting a role with such stand-out organisations to passive candidates: “it is company X, I MUST at least consider the opportunity”.

Similarly, when presenting a role with a lesser-known company that does not have a strong EVP, a lot more work has to go into educating a potential hire on the merits of the opportunity and the organisation.

A-players, top performers, rockstar candidates – name them what you will – want to be associated with other top performers.

This does not mean that a smaller company doesn’t stand a chance against the big players in the market, but it does make it even more necessary for medium and small firms to craft their message, their EVP, and to make it the foundation of all their recruitment messaging. Make it clear to top performers why they would want to work for you, the challenges, the scope for growth, the contributions they will be able to make, the creativity and excellence they will be able to display, the values you uphold, the leadership in the organisation.

Studies have found 1) challenging work, 2) a friendly work environment and 3) a commitment to diversity and inclusion, to be the top three attributes of attractive EVPs for the US workforce. I find it to be very similar in South Africa.

Of course, the message should not be just lip-service, but should be true and upheld throughout the company, otherwise it will do more harm than good. You don’t want to hear “I will never work for company X” because a friend, a family member or an ex-colleague had a bad experience with said company.

2nd Impressions: Recruitment Experience

A great experience from start to finish, even if a candidate did not land the job, will ensure they continue to speak well of you to those they know and will themselves be open to join in future given the right opportunity.

Unfortunately, flawed recruitment practices can really taint a company’s reputation.

Remember the last time you were approached for the same position, or saw it advertised by 5 or 10 agencies. A mad scramble by everyone to be the first to submit your CV, and then the superficial knowledge they had of the role and the company left you with more questions than answers going into the process. And the agency fight over who has the right to represent you to the client, then the long delays in feedback (or complete lack of it), the unprepared way in which you were sent into the interview….you know what I mean.

If that is the Touch experience candidates have with an organisation it leaves a bad taste, and even if the opportunity is great, the battle for top talent is just about lost before it ever started. Candidates end up feeling like a commodity…if they aren’t even respected so early on the process, they already doubt whether they will be valued once appointed. Top passive candidates don’t need a new job, they are perfectly happy contributing where they are, so an experience like this will shut off their interest in a flash.

So, as the next step in the Touch phase, it is imperative that both external and internal recruitment partners, as well as hiring managers, know how to represent the organisation well. They must understand your EVP, carry your message and keep your name up in lights, manage the imperfections of any recruitment process and have the maturity to lead those A-players you want to appoint through to offer and acceptance.

As my coach, executive search master David Stephen Patterson, says: “you’re going to need to hire for years to come from a limited candidate pool, so make sure you don’t poison the well for all future searches.”

3rd Impressions: Interview Process

Once you have EVP and talent attraction approach sorted, attention must be given to the Interview Process. Still part of the Touch phase, a carefully designed interview process will greatly de-risk your hiring.

The statistics on hiring success is scary:

  • 40%-60% of management new hires fail within 18 months (Harvard Business Review)
  • Nearly 50% of executive new hires fail within 18 months (The Corporate Leadership Council)
  • 46% of newly-hired employees failed within 18 months (Leadership IQ).

The major key to de-risk hiring is a well-planned interview process. This should include careful screening of potential candidates through the

  • initial assessment by your recruitment partner, to
  • competency-based interviews and DNA interviews (reverse-engineered from the role scorecard and your EVP), and potentially followed by
  • a working interview (or test drive)

Managing this process well, supported by references and other relevant assessments, can go far towards ensuring you appoint consistently in the 19% of new hires who achieve unequivocal success (Leadership IQ study).

Final Impressions: Wrap it Up

The final part of the Touch phase will be the Offer and Acceptance. Top performers are attracted by challenges and opportunity, by working for organisations with great vision where they feel they can make their mark, by working for and with great leaders. But they also know their worth, so an attractive offer with solid performance incentives and a clear growth path is necessary to conclude this phase.

The tangible (money) and intangible (leadership, challenges, values, people) parts of the offer both carry weight. In making an offer to a top performer it is as important to reconfirm EVP as it is to clarify the remuneration breakdown.

With Touch successfully concluded, the relationship moves into the next phase, Integration of Ways. We will delve deeper into that in the next article, looking at the support for your new hire through resignation, notice period, early onboarding and the first 6-12 months of employment. This will set them and you up for success and greatly reduce the risk of them accepting counteroffers or alternate offers.

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