What Shape Is Your Goodwill in?

Jul 29, 2008

I am privileged to interact with companies that have terrific goodwill and are constantly managing it — with customers, with shareholders, and with employees. Not so many years ago, working as a recruiter in the professional staffing arena, I unfortunately had to work with client companies that failed miserably in providing anything even resembling goodwill. They simply didn’t understand what it is or its value to them as a company.

For those of you who have forgotten what goodwill is, here’s a very simple Wikipedia definition: “The value of a business entity not directly attributable to its assets and liabilities.”

Goodwill comes down to a matter of your company’s reputation for treating employees fairly, addressing their needs creatively, and managing their work/life balance with flexibility — and then being able to retain those employees versus other companies competing for the same labor pool.

One company I know treats its employees as if they are children. It constantly holds the expectation that its workforce can’t be trusted, doesn’t have the company’s best interests in mind, and need to be watched constantly for any possible infractions of company policy. This sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy, doesn’t it?

Another company does its best to make sure all its employees adhere to a very strict schedule of Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with no exceptions, even though more than half of its employees perform duties not tied to the company’s hours of operation and some can easily perform their job from a home computer. There are some control issues going on here!

Finally, another firm, in professional services, maintains that as an “informal” policy it expects all of their employees to work very long hours because it can’t afford to hire additional staff — and, well, that’s what it has always expected from anyone who wants to work there This sounds very appealing to a semi-retired Baby Boomer, doesn’t it?

All of these companies have one thing in common. They will all struggle to maintain an adequate workforce and go the way of the dinosaurs if they don’t change their ways. As the labor supply decreases in the coming years, retaining top talent will be more than a simple matter of the employer who pays the most gets the talent. The dynamics of what keeps employees engaged will be no different in 2025 then what it is today. The four cornerstones of why employees stay with a company are: they feel appreciated for their contributions, positively challenged by their responsibilities, offered benefits that make sense for their lifestyle, and have successfully struck a balance between their career and their personal life.

Reassess your goodwill now and ask yourself, “how healthy is my company’s reputation with our workforce?”

There isn’t any one right answer to the goodwill question. While concierge services and on-site day care may be positives at one company, they may mean little at another. A short work day and telecommuting may also be treated differently from one group of employees to another. Goodwill doesn’t have to cost a lot to build, but it can be expensive to lose, when you consider the cost of your revolving personnel door, constant retraining of new employees to replace the old, employee theft as a result of discontent, and lost business relationships built over time by your workforce.

Think about the companies today with the best professional reputations, internally and externally, such as Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo!, to name just a few. A great place to get a hold on your company goodwill is by gaining an understanding of the details of what inspires and keeps your employees happy. It will be the companies positioning themselves today on the four cornerstones of employee goodwill who will capitalize on the top talent of tomorrow.

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