Erickson: Create ‘Signature Experiences’ for Employees

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Apr 28, 2010
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Tamara J. Erickson

ORLANDO—Remember why you joined your organization? What attracted you to it? What expectations were presented to you?

It’s important for staffing professionals to have a good understanding of that “point of choice,” particularly in these recessionary times, said Tamara J. Erickson, president of the Concours Institute, during the April 27 keynote session here at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2010 Staffing Management Conference & Exposition. It’s that choice that will keep employees engaged and that will help companies know what to focus on to retain them.

Engaged employees are excited and enthusiastic, said Erickson, an award-winning author whose latest book is titled Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work. These employees avoid distraction and lose track of time pondering current challenges even on their own time. Their enthusiasm and “discretionary effort” is contagious and encourages people to use their knowledge and capabilities in ways that contribute continuously to the success of the whole.

“The companies that will be iconic in the next century will be the companies that figure out how to utilize intelligence, how to get people to bring ideas together, how to create something new and to harness the smallest unit of knowledge and leverage it in new and interesting ways,” Erickson said. Getting people engaged and driving the kind of discretionary effort that comes from engagement “is going to become one of the key differentiators of the companies that become the next icons.”

Striking the Right Chord

Companies with highly engaged employees don’t exactly exhibit best practices, she said, adding: “They are a little weird. They all tend to do things in different ways, but within the companies is a level of congruence. ”

Erickson said workers tend to care most about six “career anchors” when it comes to work:

  • Expressive legacy, or the creation of something lasting.
  • Secure progress, or a predictable upwardly mobile path to success.
  • Expertise and team victory, or being a part of a winning team.
  • Risk with reward, or the opportunity to experience challenge and change regularly.
  • Flexible support, perceived as more important than money.
  • Low-obligation income, or work for the purpose of near-term economic gain only.

The challenge for staffing professionals is to attract and retain people who are predisposed to like what their company has to offer. The challenge for companies is to address these employees’ preferences by addressing what Erickson dubbed the “four Cs”:

  • Construct, or structure and definition of work.
  • Compensation, the entire scope of the pay and benefits package.
  • Connection, management style.
  • Communication, or key messages and shared values.

Erickson asked: “Does the organization have a team-based environment, fast-paced ambiguous jobs? How does it compensate people, not just from a monetary standpoint, but what they get back from the company? Is the company management style top-down, or do people have autonomy? And how do you connect with employees and communicate the company’s values?

“It doesn’t really matter what the answers to these questions are. What matters is that you’re aligned. When you have problems is when you are one way in one area and another way in another area.”

Signature Processes

To ensure that alignment, companies need to create what Erickson called “signature processes,” or highly visibly, unique elements of an organization’s employee experience. These are valuable to the firm in and of themselves as symbolic representations of the company’s human capital values. Further, these are convincing mechanisms for promoting self-selection among potential job candidates; if they don’t buy into such processes and values, they won’t apply for positions. And finally, they are nearly impossible for others to copy or replicate because they are so closely tied to the company’s unique values.

The companies that hit the mark when it comes to fostering employee engagement through their signature processes “know who they are and are comfortable with not being all things to all people,” she said. “They understand their target employees—current and future—as much as other companies understand their target customers.”

They communicate who they are with vivid stories of practices and events, or signature experiences. They align all the elements of the employee experience to reinforce the organization’s promises and values, and they view the creation of discretionary energy as a key leadership responsibility, she added.

“You’ve got to be clear about what you promise, what [employees] expect, and make sure you’re delivering on it to the very best of your ability,” she said. “Play to your strengths, and don’t apologize for your weaknesses.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor for SHRM.

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