Colorado Public Works Journal, Spring-Summer 2019

46 Colorado Public Works Journal So how did Blockbuster go from a five billion dollar company to bankruptcy in less than 10 years? It’s because their product became obsolete. They didn’t adjust for the times. Their competition built a product for the future while they relied on ‘what they used to be’. The Blockbuster leadership team must have felt that their product could survive any threat, and yet the market felt differently. The story of Blockbuster runs parallel to the issues that many CEOs and business leaders are facing today. Not necessarily on the external sales side, but on the internal side of things: their ability to attract and retain great talent. Whenever I meet with CEOs, business leaders or managers, there is one topic that consis- tently comes up: How do we find and retain the best talent for our company? It’s no wonder this is a hot-button issue. As of May the national unemployment rate was 3.6%, and locally here is Colorado our rate is 3.0%. These are historically low numbers that are creating their own interesting side effects. It means great employees have options. It even means average employees have options. This talent is being recruited to join other companies and thus driving up the average salaries. We see the tenure averages dropping to roughly 20-24 month averages for people under 32. We see recruiting costs going higher and higher in order to bring in new talent to replace those that are leaving. All of this is creating headaches and frustration for organizational leaders, and it manifests itself in different ways. “Why can’t anyone be loyal anymore?” “Why do these younger people have so many demands in how they want to work?” “What do we need to do to stop the bleeding of our good talent?” My answer is always the same: It’s time to start looking at your internal company culture like a product. When you look at your culture like a product, you begin to think of your company differently. You begin to see your employees as your customers, and understand that it is through your employees that you will grow your business. Leaders must then ask themselves the most important question: What kind of culture product do we need to create that will attract and retain the type of talent we want? We are going through a period of rapid and extensive change, not only in how we live but also how we work. The internet and mobile technology have fundamentally shifted every aspect of our lives, and as employees, we begin to expect different things from our work environments. If you want to hire and retain great talent, figure out what kind of culture and environment they seek, and build that. It requires companies to take ownership of their culture. It requires them to not blame their employees or technology for the changes. It requires understanding that this is more than a ‘Millennial issue’, this is the new reality of how people will work and live. Want To Attract and Retain Better People? When was the last time you went to a Blockbuster Video? My guess is that it’s been a while. It’s probably because there aren’t many around anymore and you have Netflix. While hindsight is always 20/20 we often forget how big and dominate Blockbuster actually was in its heyday. In 2000 they had over 7,500 locations. Today there is one left. There is no doubt that the mentality and expectations of Millennials is different than previous generations. But it is important to remember that every generation had differ- ences from those before it. Just think back to your teenage years. Did you parents ever roll their eyes or get frustrated with ‘the kids these days’? My guess is yes. It is a story that has been going for thousands of years. Socrates once said ‘if the world is depend- ent on today’s youth, I don’t see the world lasting more than 100 years.’ He said this 2,500 years ago. So instead of looking at the world through your lens when trying at attract and retain talent, look at the world through the lens of who you are trying to recruit. There are plenty of challenges and issues that are top of mind for those under 35. Over the last 15 years student loan debt has grown by over 350%. Average wages for everyone except the top 10% of earners has remained stag- nant during that time. The average rent for a one bed/one bath apartment in Denver has grown by over 85% in the last decade. By thinking of these issues, you can start having conversations that center around empathy. You can start getting creative on ways to attract great talent. It isn’t always about the amount of money you are paying your people, it’s more about the intent and relevance. Many companies have a 401k match program. I know this program ap- peals to many people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s because it is relevant. How much does a 24 year-old with $60,000 in student loan debt probably care about 401k? My guess is little. But what if your company offered a student loan match program? I am guessing the level of appeal would be incredibly high. What if your company offered a ‘housing subsidy’ benefit fund? What if instead of of- fering your people a $250 bonus you offered to pay for their Netflix and Amazon Prime? Both have equal cost to the company, and yet would have wildly different outcomes for your people. By thinking creatively you being creating a culture product that appeals to those people you are trying to attract. When you look at your culture like a product, you begin to take ownership. You under- stand that as leaders your job is to make the company succeed, and to succeed you need great employees to do great work. So let’s stop worrying about ‘who is right and who wrong’ when it comes to expectations and desires from a workplace and instead create an environment that appeals to everyone and makes the company succeed. Blockbuster failed because they offered an obsolete product. As a company, you can’t offer an obsolete culture and decide to blame your employees because of it.

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