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The 17 Rules Successful Companies Use to Attract and Keep Top Talent: Why?

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David Russo tells why he wrote the book on employee retention, alignment, and engagement -- and who needs to read it.

Over the years of my career in business, I came in contact with many executives and the companies they represented in my roles as subordinate, colleague, advisor, consultant, or interested bystander. When the subject of the value of people in the equation of business success was broached, almost to a person, these people waxed philosophically, and sometimes passionately, about people being the most important dependent variable. At first, I took these folks at their collective word, but as I matured in my own views of how business really gets done, I learned that most executives have no clue about the real value that talented and committed people bring to the enterprise. Further, I learned that many top executives and the management teams they "lead" have no earthly idea how to engage with the people they hire in order to get the best positive outcomes for their businesses.

A low threshold example of this can be found in the standard offer of employment letter and the new employee orientation experince. Typically, a company spends a considerable amount of time, money and effort to find and attract talented candidates. A quick reading of an offer letter to one of these candidates relays how little thought goes into the impending, and possibly long-term, relationship. These letters are full of legalese, cautions, warnings, and sometimes, thinly veiled threats. They speak of protecting the company against the "possible" actions of the new employee, limit the latitude of the employee to speak, act, and even pursue personal growth or wealth. Orientation exercises are even less engaging in many respects. Instead of a welcome to "hearth and home," they are often a reminder to the new hires that they are highly compensated chattel, who must operate with an understanding of all the rules under which they are "governed." Companies and other entities repeatedly pay small fortunes in salaries and benefits to talented persons, whom they then manage and restrict until any possibility of getting the "bang for the buck" is totally eradicated. "We hired you and paid you for the skill, talent, and experience you bring along with value we believed you would add to our quest for competitive advantage. NOW, shut up, do as you're told, and don't rock the boat!"

For me it was no big surprise to hear and see that Gallup and other organizations that take the pulse of America's workplace were finding that, generally speaking, employees are disengaged from and uncommitted to their employers. It was also no news to see that voluntary turnover was on the rise, and that fewer and fewer employees had any trust in the companies and managers which employed them. So for a number of years I would tell any of my colleagues who were interested, or who were at least willing to listen, my tales of clueless executives, who wonder why they can't keep good people, why the workforce doesn't seem to care about making good products or company profitability, why payrolls keep increasing but productivity is stagnant, and why employees "just seem to be here for the paycheck/have no enthusiasm/can't meet deadlines/resent putting in long hours/avoid responsibility," etc.

Finally a number of my friends, but specifically and pointedly, Susan Meisinger, the now-retired CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, and Jeffrey Pfeffer, The Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford University School of Business, tired of my bleating and individually challenged me to make my feelings and opinons known from a larger platform. So I gathered my thoughts and put them together in a way I believed to be worthy of consideration by executives and managers who have a sincere interest in and focus on finding, developing, and keeping a talented workforce capable of providing sustainable competitive advantage.

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