Career Woman

Why you need an Employee Promise to win today’s war for talent


Ask any employer about the applicants they received for their last vacancy, and it’s likely they found it difficult to fill the role because they received a large number of unsuitable applicants and very few suitable applicants. More companies are competing for the best talent in the belief that there is almost no substitute for a higher percentage of top performers.

Equally the most talented people are applying for the jobs with the best companies that give them what they need today, and, offer the best opportunity for career advancement in the future. They are applying for jobs that are in their own best interests.

In a study by Danny Samson from the University of Melbourne, 95% of employees said they would consistently put their own interests in front of those of their employer. Furthermore, only 8% would purely make decisions in the best interests of their employer. Most of the employees surveyed would choose an action that resulted in their employer forgoing $10 million if they personally gained at least $15,000.

While the high percentages are perhaps shocking, as a leader the fact that employees put their own interests first should come as no surprise to you. In fact, any sentient and emotionally aware leader should be surprised when employees don’t act in their own interests.

In the same way that Nicolaus Copernicus demonstrated in 1543 that the Earth was not at the centre of the universe, your employees do not exist to revolve around you, and you are simply one part of a complex geocentric business model, along with your employees, revolving around the customer.

It’s an important first step to accept that employees will, and in fact should, act in their own interests. That may require you embrace your capability for humility and perhaps check your ego at the door, yet is fundamental for you to eventually become a magnet for the best talent.

If success in your job means leading a group of people who are most likely operating in their own interests, how can you get them to do their best work, with higher productivity and also achieve a higher retention rate?

You must understand what your ideal employees need from their place of work and consistently deliver it to them. This is done through an Employee Promise, a unique and measurable promise that meets the ideal employee’s needs, aligns with the organisations Core Purpose as well as helping to deliver the Brand Promise, the promise your organisation makes to customers.

In a 2001 Fortune magazine interview with Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines famously said, ‘You have to treat your employees like customers’. Note below how Southwest has interdependence between its Brand Promise and its Employee Promise.

The Brand Promise that Southwest Airlines makes to its customers is

  • Low fares
  • Lots of fun
  • Lots of flights

The Employee Promise that Southwest Airlines makes to its employees is

  • Lots of love
  • Lots of fun
  • Pro-active, co-dependent team

By delivering on the needs of their ideal employees, who have an instinctive desire for a loving, fun and pro-active, co-dependant team, which also aligns with what the ideal Southwest customer needs, Southwest create an interdependency between the needs of customers and the needs of their employees, thereby becoming a magnet for their ideal employees, and at the same time living their Core Purpose, to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable and low-cost air travel.

If we are to treat employees like customers, it begs the questions:

  • How do we treat our customers?
  • How do we attract customers?
  • How do we keep customers?
  • And can we emulate and align with our external client strategy, internally, to attract the best employees?

In order to attract and retain top performers to your organisation, you need more than tactics or gimmicks, you need a strategy. Using Michael Porter’s definition of strategy in this context you need to create a unique and valuable position in the employer market, involving a different set of activities from your competitors for the same employees. For example, Southwest employees might be instinctively compelled to work for Southwest and repelled from working for other airlines.

You must balance a strategy that creates a unique and valuable position externally to attract the right customers that align with your purpose, and you need a second strategy that creates a unique and valuable position internally to attract the employees who also align with your purpose and are driven to fulfil that Core Purpose and Brand Promise to your customers.

If there is indeed no substitute for the competitive advantage of having the best people work for your organisation who will both help you live your purpose and deliver excellence to customers, then identifying the characteristics of the ideal employee, what they need and delivering it through an Employee Promise might be viewed as important as your external strategy.

About Brad Giles'

Brad Giles is one of Australia’s most sought-after leadership team coaches. An experienced business speaker, adviser and entrepreneur, Brad works with some of the country’s leading mid-sized firms, helping CEOs and leadership teams to thrive. He is also the author of Made to Thrive: The Five Roles to Evolve Beyond Your Leadership Comfort Zone ($29.95). Find out more at

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