While a job listing can show the requirements or expected duties for an open position, understanding the company culture and vibe can be extremely difficult. To learn more about what one local business is doing to fix that, we spoke with Lauryn Sargent, co-founder and partner at Stories Incorporated.
ABERMAN: Well, let’s talk first about Stories, and what that business is about.
SARGENT: At Stories Incorporated, we do two things really well. The first is that we find stories from employees about what it’s like to work at an organization. So, getting the real, inside scoop. And the second is, we create really engaging media for candidates so they can make the decision whether or not that’s a good fit for them or not. So, media would be videos, photos, blogs, anything that a candidate consumes on candidate-facing channels, to understand what it’s like to work somewhere.
ABERMAN: So how does this position vis-a-vis something like Vault.com?
SARGENT: Oh yeah. Good question. I think there are a few things. The first is that the company does pick the people, and we do advise a little bit about who you pick as what we say storytellers. It should be people that are thriving in your culture. People who have been able to be promoted, people that you want more of in your culture. So, it’s a selection of people that we’re talking to that the client selects. And then I’d say it’s different in that we hand over all of the content for the company to control. So, they’re the people who are putting it on their candidate facing channels. It’s intentional, it’s kind of a curated content.
ABERMAN: I certainly have seen many places where employers and companies will hire somebody to create a video. I suspect there’s something more to it than that.
SARGENT: I agree. Yeah, I think there’s also, especially in this age of content, there’s a lot out there. There’s a lot of videos, but there’s not a lot of substantive content that really shows candidates what it’s like to work somewhere. And you know, the most successful content is something that’s going to make a candidate opt in and out. So, not necessarily everyone should want to work there after marketing content. There’s a lot of content out there, video content, that’s highly generic, about oh, it shows the office space, which is good, but a lot of generic comments about oh, I love working here, I can bring my whole self to work, what a great work life balance. You know, that could be any company. So a lot of the videos that are out there, yeah, it’s a low bar. I think that there’s a lot that can be done to better show your culture than you know, showing some generic statements from employees.
ABERMAN: Well, it sounds to me like, in the first instance, what you’re getting at is that businesses and business leaders have a tendency to cluster around certain keywords that they actually start to compete with each other, and they think they’re differentiating, but they’re not. You know, a consulting business is saying, we’re customer focused, or we’re result based, and they all say it, and as a result it becomes meaningless.
SARGENT: Yeah, exactly. And I think we have the advantage, because we all day long we look at career sites, and candidate facing content, so we can tell you it’s generic. Sometimes you think it’s brilliant. You know, bringing your whole self to work is something that’s come up the last two or three years, where everyone thinks that’s such a unique thing to say. And it’s actually not anymore. It’s noise. Meaning that, if you’re a candidate, you see that on five different sites for five different companies, and it starts to lose its meaning
ABERMAN: When I’m a potential employee, these days there is so much falsity in the media. How do you signal authenticity in any content these days?
SARGENT: It’s hard. And it’s really through showing some things that may not be that attractive. But that’s the truth. Amazon is a really good example of that, where they don’t have a culture for everyone. And so, they lead with that, and in some cases, it was unintentional, like with the New York Times article a few years ago. But there’s something I read the other day that was an awesome piece of content written by an employee that’s like: how I survived ten years at Amazon. And it’s like 10 different things, advice to you on how you can have a career at Amazon. And it was filled with their experiences, and that is helpful. Instead of, for example, give as much as yourself as possible, or things like that that are just not going to really resonate. But to have the example underneath is really powerful.
So, I think that that’s how you get around like, what’s authentic and not. You really have to lead with some things that may be polarizing, and in the end, that’s more success. That’s that’s a good strategy for an employer to have, for lots of reasons. The first is that you wouldn’t want to lead with something that’s not true, because then, candidates get in the door, and then they’re like, this isn’t what I was sold! And they’re gone. So, that’s awful for retention. And the other is that, if you know your culture, you know who’s going to be successful or not.
And when you have a thousand applicants to go through, that’s really tough. But if you’re really honest about your culture, and you attract fifty that are really excited about that, then that’s easier for recruiters. It’s less waste, and easier to get to the right fit people. So, I’d say leading with something that’s making sure you put out there what’s true about your culture, but things that you know might be slightly polarizing, is a good strategy to have.
ABERMAN: You touched on culture, and you talk about culture. What does culture actually mean in the context of helping an organization be better at recruiting people?
SARGENT: It’s really making a promise. So, there’s something called an EVP, an employee value proposition. It’s making a promise to your employees that you’re a certain way, and then living up to that promise. And so, all the actions that happen that live up to that promise is the culture. So, if you’re saying that we’re a place that is totally transparent, you know, there’s some cultures that lean into that, where they publish salaries. Bridgewater is one of my favorite examples of a culture where they record, and this is a polarizing thing about them, but they say they’re completely transparent. And then what they do is, they actually record every single conversation that happens within the organization. So if you’re curious, I wonder what my manager talked about with the director about this issue. You can go listen to the recording. So, they’re 100 percent transparent. I may be going a little bit on a tangent.
ABERMAN: Not at all! You probably saw my horrified look, I was thinking to myself: I have always wanted to be a transparent leader. I cannot imagine that, though.
SARGENT: The level of transparency is insane there. And they do lots of interesting things. At the end of every day, they publish an email that has your name and then a rank number next to it. If you made a mistake that is, I think, above an eight, that means that you’ve made a mistake that exposes the company to some kind of risk. And an email goes out to the whole company, so they know this person made a mistake.
ABERMAN: Okay, well I think I just identified one company I’m unlikely to go work at. But that’s good, because it’s transparent, and people know what they’re buying into. And you mention Amazon, and they’re unapologetic. G.E. used to be a place where it was very clear that the bottom ten percent weren’t going to make it, year after year. So, transparency is, I think, a big value for today’s worker. What else are you seeing as really important things for a culture to have to attract workers these days?
SARGENT: Flexibility. Dell does an awesome job where, you know, you can read a lot about work life balance, but that needs to be defined with employee stories. It can mean so much, and flexibility can mean so much to so many people. Maybe it’s leaving at six o’clock every day is a flexible workplace. You know, my husband, he’s on a government contract. He can only work 40 hours a week. To me, that seems flexible. He can’t take it home, it’s only 40 hours. So, Dell does a really awesome job where they communicate through stories what flexibility means for women in leadership.
So it means, you know, I needed to go to India for my family for three weeks, I asked a manager, and they said: you can only go if you can get your work done. Bring your laptop. And they say, oh great. I can get my work done. So yes, she went into India for three weeks, but she was working the entire time. One person said, you know, my daughter was in this summer program, and I was a coach, and I really wanted to be home for that. And I wanted to participate. So, I was able to work from home the whole month. I took the whole month off. It just really showed the balance of, yes, you can do absolutely do these things, but you also are accountable to work.
ABERMAN: Do you find, when you go and you talk with the clients that you have, that the older generation, the baby boomers, brought up in a work culture of, work really hard, get paid a lot of money, don’t ask questions. How did they react to this new environment, where transparency and flexibility are the primary values driving workers these days?
SARGENT: I think they react very well. I think they’re the people who are driving these things in organizations, because they have done the traditional activities, and they realized. I mean, I can’t speak generally, but I think people who are making these rules, and in a lot of cases setting the culture, are baby boomers. They have seen what works for them, or what kind of work environment they wish that they had had. So, that’s what I’m saying. Most people that we’re working with are senior leaders, that are making the decisions to capture the culture, and they’re part of creating it.
ABERMAN: Is there anything going on right now in the workplace that you think employers aren’t appreciating as much as they should, as a way to differentiate themselves?
SARGENT: I think there’s two trends going on. One is that some employers recognize that people want to move every two years. And so, there’s some people who’ve really adapted to that, where they’re like, okay! We’re just going to understand that people are going to move every two years out of the company, and we’re going to make it easy for them to come back. So, boomerang employees. So, that’s one trend, where people are understanding of the way of new work in some companies. And so, they really emphasize this boomerang. Come back! You did an awesome job here, and you’re going to go explore something else? That’s awesome, we support it. And when you’re ready, you can come back here. So, I think that’s one thing that people don’t promote enough.
And I know back in my day, like when I was recruiting, it’s like if you leave, you’re dead to me. And so, I think that that’s a really interesting thing to be promoting more of. On the other hand, I think it’s really great when employers say, we want you to work here your whole life, because we’re providing you really awesome opportunities every two years. So, you don’t have to leave, because we’re trying to make this good. We want to hear from you what’s going to make a great work environment, and we’re going to do that for you. So, really great example is: we worked with this company, Sunoco, which is a large manufacturing company. And it has, I wouldn’t say an old school culture, but they’ve been around for quite some time.
There was someone that we interviewed that was part responsible for leading a panel of executives. So, all of the interns would come in, and then the panel of executives would talk about the things that were so great about Sunoco, and start your career with Sunoco. So, one of the executives on the panel, who later became the CEO, said to the person that ran it: I’d rather we switch this. I’d rather the executives sat in the audience, and the interns sat up on the stage, and we could ask them questions like, what do you want out of work? What’s going to keep you here? So I think that companies that are really progressive like that, those that recognize, hey, maybe the trend is every two years. But on the other hand, those that recognize, if it’s because you’re not challenged every two years, we want to challenge you, make sure that you never leave. I’d say those two things, I think, are untapped opportunities to discuss.
ABERMAN: That’s really great insight. Lauryn Sargent, it was great to have you on the show today. Thanks for joining us.
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