BY ADAM MENDLER
When the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016, the rest of the NBA took a major collective gasp. The strongest team in professional basketball, dominant NBA champions in 2015, got a lot stronger by adding one of the five best players in the game. After the signing, the other 29 teams in the league dejectedly asked themselves, “How can we possibly compete with the Golden State Warriors?”
Businesses across America looking at corporate juggernauts like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon face a similar challenge in the arms race for top talent. A strong job market, a generation of candidates interested in more than just a steady job and a paycheck, and competitors flushed with seemingly limitless resources willing to do whatever it takes to land whoever they want forces companies to work harder and smarter than ever to attract the best of the best.
How can you take on the big boys and build a world-class workforce? Follow these simple steps and you will be able to compete with any company out there.
Understand your audience
When the Warriors were devising a strategy to try to persuade Durant to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and spurn attractive offers from competitors like the Boston Celtics, they closely studied his personal makeup and values. Identifying that Durant greatly valued leaving a legacy as a winner and playing a style of basketball he considered enjoyable, the Warriors made a hard sell around their unique ability to provide him with the opportunity to win multiple championships while playing in a highly-enjoyable, passing-oriented, free-flowing system.
As the American workforce becomes increasingly less gray, companies need to hone in on the audience of greatest importance to them: millennials. According to a Brookings study, millennials will make up as much as 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025. Millennials cite Google, Apple and Facebook as the most desirable companies to work for, so clearly the Golden State Warriors of the business world have figured out the right formula.
Company culture counts
A Harvard Business Review study titled “Why People Quit Their Jobs” cited the oldest (and most obvious to many of us) reason in the books: They don’t like their boss. A separate Gallup survey found that half of those polled left their jobs primarily “to get away from their manager.” In my career, I have witnessed bad managers chase talented employees away from companies that, on paper, appeared to be desirable to work for. I have also witnessed bad employees disrupt a positive work environment and threaten to undermine an otherwise sterling corporate culture. One bad apple can truly spoil the bunch, so it is critical for a business’s intent on attracting top talent to ensure that every member of the organization is a team player capable of living up to the vision, mission and values of the company and able to mesh well with others.
Millennials in particular prize companies that possess values they admire and offer both an environment and work that they enjoy. The Brookings study on millennial preferences found that 63 percent of millennials want their employer to contribute to social or ethical causes they felt were important, compared to roughly half of older Gen Xers and boomers who felt similarly. And almost two-thirds of millennials would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they don’t.
Beyond building a team comprised fully of high-quality people, companies can establish a fun and desirable culture by catering to the intrinsic needs of their employees. In-office amenities like ping pong and foosball tables or arcade machines can help employees de-stress and work more productively and happily. Throwing happy hours and other social events also serves as a way to make employees feel more comfortable at work and with those they work with, and offers a platform to help employees develop friendships with one another.
Offer unique perks
Among the most attractive aspects of working for companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are the employee benefits beyond traditional offerings like healthcare and retirement plans. When I was student body president in junior high school, I learned firsthand how impactful free food can be to winning the support of your constituents, a lesson I carried me with as president of the Business Scholars Society in college (we had free food at every event). At the end of the day, if people love food and free things, what is better than free food? Stock your kitchen, offer snacks (we have a popcorn machine) and bring in or take your team out for free meals. We have found company barbecues to be especially impactful. Everyone on the team gets to socialize in a fun, relaxed setting and enjoys free food. Fortunately, one of our interns this summer was the founder of his high school grilling club.
Just like free food, mandatory time off and vacation stipends will be extremely well-received. Adobe goes as far as shutting its offices down for two weeks a year (one week in December and a week over the summer), while Airbnb provides employees a $2,000 travel stipend. If your business can’t afford such generous benefits, offer what you can. Allowing employees to leave early or work from home on days that they would like to (and when it isn’t otherwise disruptive) is an easy way to build goodwill.
Even when benefits apply to limited audiences within the organization, they can be impactful company-wide if they position the employer as thoughtful, sensitive and caring. Clearly, no company has a monopoly on creativity or thoughtfulness; and smaller companies should be better able to implement creative benefits than large corporations, as they are not as stymied by internal politics and bureaucratic hurdles.
Optimize your office
Companies of all sizes across all industries with greatly varying budgets have prioritized investing in their employees’ health by furnishing their workplaces with ergonomic office chairs, desks and workstations. The study of one’s efficiency and health in their working environment, ergonomics, has exploded in popularity and application over the last quarter century, and organizations are dedicating far greater focus toward ergonomics today than ever before. Providing ergonomic office furniture to your workforce is a fail-safe way to ensure that your employees are more efficient and comfortable when working.
As the founder and chairman of an office furniture company, I have seen the impact firsthand, with clients of all sizes across a wide variety of industries. By providing lumbar support, ergonomic chairs specifically target posture to increase worker health and productivity. A misconception is that companies need thousands of dollars to buy Aeron chairs, as they are the most in-demand office chairs ever created and offered in the marketplace. But we have created a business model that allows us to sell refurbished Herman Miller Aeron chairs at roughly half off of retail pricing. Companies can and should seek similar high-end ergonomic options for products such as sit-to-stand desks that are not as expensive as the highest-priced offerings, but equally as effective. Sit-to-stand desks are especially popular among millennials, as they not only improve the health of your back but help you burn calories throughout the day and counteract lethargy.
Beyond ensuring that your employees are seated in ergonomic furniture, optimize your office by focusing on its aesthetics. People prefer uplifting, positive environments to atmospheres that are drab, dull and depressing, so incorporate fun colors, interactive and/or chalkboard walls, natural greenspaces and fun decor. While they have received some backlash of late, open plan offices have been and remain popular. They can enhance communication between management and staff, while propelling increased collaboration between employees across different departments.
Focus on the family
According to a recent National Journal-Allstate Heartland Monitor Poll, relative to baby boomers, millennials place a greater value on work-life balance and spending quality time with friends and family. In fact, more than 80 percent of the millennials surveyed consider having a good balance between work and life and enjoying enough quality time with family necessary for a good life. Just as the Warriors identified and catered to Kevin Durant’s values, it is imperative for all companies to listen and adapt to the needs of the group most important to the composition of its workforce.
Many millennials are young parents and many plan on having children in the near future. Recognizing the importance of catering to familial needs, companies are increasingly offering free childcare in the office or reimbursements for outside childcare expenses in addition to generous maternity and paternity leave options.
While providing a year of paid leave and delving into female fertility may be territory many businesses simply cannot enter, all employers should provide an accommodative environment that allows its employees to live a healthy, balanced life, without having to trade off having a family for building a successful career. Millennials appreciate those who genuinely care about their wellbeing as people (not merely as workers) and companies that are truly caring, kind and compassionate can show their love in many different ways.
Upon signing Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors had the best record in the NBA and steamrolled their way through playoffs to win the championship. They are in a great position to win again this year and for the foreseeable future. But that has not stopped teams around the league from competing. The Boston Celtics fell short in their efforts to land Durant, and their efforts to advance to the NBA Finals, but spent the offseason positioning themselves to take on Golden State. You will inevitably lose talent you desire to Google and to other large blue-chip companies, but you can and should compete every step of the way. And if you do, you will find your company looking like the Celtics, which isn’t a bad thing, even if you are a Laker fan.