Closing the Offer With Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

Nov 29, 2010

The pay’s about the same; the benefits are every bit as good; the job is equally challenging; and, the training and career ladders are equivalent.

So how do you attract the top talent when you don’t have quite the same brand awareness as your closest competitors?

“Flexibility is the number one carrot,” says Paul Peterson, national talent resource manager for the Canadian branch of international accounting firm Grant Thornton.

Grant Thornton is a top 10 accounting firm. In size, it ranks fifth or sixth, depending on who’s counting. Either way, it’s a firm with significant resources, career mobility, a global reach, and, as Peterson observes, a brand not as well known in North America as the Big Four (DeloitteTouche Tohmatsu, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG.) With salaries and benefits comparable among the firms, his recruiters have to be more innovative in selling Grant Thornton to top candidates.

So what do they do?

“We work hard to identify potential high quality employees in advance. When we approach them we have a stated goal of getting inside someone to find out ‘what makes them tick.’ Once you have a sense of someone’s values you can take a step back and determine ways to structure a job to accommodate them,” says Peterson.

Borrowing from the principles outlined by Daniel Pink in his bestseller, Drive, the Grant Thornton team emphasizes flexibility.

Pink, in his now famously viral 18 minute speech at the TEDGlobal conference last year, says, “There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” What most motivates 21st century workers is  “autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These are the building blocks of a new way of doing things.”

These are the differentiators that Peterson and his team sell to their prospects. “I don’t know that we necessarily talk about it that way, but we try to appeal to those same drivers,” says Peterson.

While money always factors in, it is rarely the primary attractor. “It’s so much more than that …  Sometime we highlight the things that are already in place. Sometimes it’s about the flexibility in work arrangements. That flexibility gives them control, autonomy … ”

Tangible carrots of all sorts — the Yin of management — have long been the tools employers have used to motivate workers to higher levels of productivity. Sticks are the Yang.

An article in the Harvard Business Review detailed the results of a multi-year study of worker activities and motivations. As part of the study, the authors surveyed some 600 managers on what they considered to be important drivers.  “Recognition for good work (either public or private)” ranked as most important in motivating workers. While not unimportant to workers, they told the researchers that progress — what Pink calls “mastery” — was their most important motivator.

The managers, in a dramatic show of disconnect, listed progress dead last.

“A close analysis,” the study authors write, “shows that making progress in one’s work — even incremental progress — is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event.”

What should this mean for recruiters?

Writing in the September issue of the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership, Joseph Shaheen, managing director of Human Alliance, Inc, said, “The recruiting leader’s responsibility is no longer simply to recruit. It is to manage the livelihood of her entire organization.”

Amplifying his written comments in an interview, Shaheen says recruiters should be talking to hiring managers about their candidate experiences, sharing what they have learned from speaking with them and “get past” the conversation about pay and benefits.

“The way most HR managers are … they are not looking at alternatives,” he says. In fact, “Recruiters are not even expected to discuss these things.”

What kinds of non-monetary incentives might tip the scales for a high potential candidate? Regular access to the CEO or other high-ranking company executive — visibility — might convince a career-focused candidate. Another might value coaching. It’s a bene that is routinely offered to senior executives and almost never to mid-level candidates, Shaheen says.

Still another might be lured by the promise of working on challenging projects. That’s an incentive technology recruiters find works well, says Dice’s Tom Silver. Of the tech recruiters who are finding they have to sweeten offers, seven percent use projects as a primary incentive. More use flexible working arrangements.

At Grant Thornton, Paul Peterson’s recruiters have those conversations with hiring managers and supervisors.

“They have influence (on the corporate culture). Because they are talking to a lot of people, hearing from candidates and digging in to their motivations, trying to get inside them, they have the data,” says Peterson.

Grant Thornton recruiters, he says, have “a lot of input,” encouraging managers to be flexible in how they incent and manage staff. The feeling among recruiters and managers is that it is paying off. The candidates for whom the terms of employment were more flexible — call them the personalized offers — provide more and better referrals than more traditionally hired workers. There’s a sense, too, that they are more productive.

“You have to have a culture internally that accepts it (flexibility and non-traditional arrangements). In the end, it’s a lot more up front work, but it’s much more successful this way.”

NOTE: This article was excerpted from a longer piece originally published in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership.

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