Why No One Wants to "Join" Your Organization

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Why No One Wants to "Join" Your Organization

A venerable old institution in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida has just announced that after 48 years, it’s shutting its doors for good. The University Club, a traditional (and I do mean traditional) private city club, or what’s sometimes called a fine dining or business club (think heavy oak carpentry, dry martinis, and waiters in black tie) is going the way of the Walkman. Why? Bad food? No – it was amazing. Bad service – wrong again. And talk about atmosphere! The floor-to-ceiling windows offered killer riverfront views of this beautiful city. (Please don’t judge us by our football team.)

Then why’d it die? Simple. People don’t join things like they used to. I didn’t say they don’t join things at all. Just not like they used to. They don’t join country clubs, civic clubs, health clubs, churches, political parties, or Greek societies at the rates they once did. Oh, of course people still play golf, socialize, exercise, attend worship services, vote, and party in college. But more and more, they engage in these activities on their own terms, without feeling compelled to make a commitment to an organized entity that provides these opportunities.

And they’re probably not going to get particularly excited about joining your company. They may want to do great stuff, work with an inspiring leader, make a difference, even earn some cash – but joining a particular organization? Meh…

And it makes perfect sense, really. Most of us are looking to maximize value in whatever we choose to do for a living, right? With the demise of defined benefit pensions, organizational loyalty, attention to career progression, and some of the other benefits of being “with” a particular organization, the best chances for maximizing that value come from the aforementioned perks, (doing great stuff, inspiring leader, etc.), all of which can be had without putting the organization’s name on top of our own. In other words, your organization – who needs it?

A generation ago, when you asked people, “So, what do you do?”, more often than not they would lead with their employer. “I work for IBM”, or “The phone company” (there was only one in any given area). Or maybe such-and-such a store. Ask that question today, and you’ll likely get something like – I’m in I.T., or a nurse, engineer, pharmaceutical sales rep, drone operator, social media manager. Something along those lines.

And yet employer reputation matters. A lot. No self-respecting job applicant would even consider applying for a job with your outfit without first checking you out on glassdoor.com, vault.com, or one of the other popular employer review sites. So while they’re not all that animated about the “organization” they work for anymore, they are supremely interested in the environment and the leadership culture they can expect if they come to work there for a while.

If you buy the above premise – here’s what you can do:

  • Under the principle that we can more readily control ourselves than we can our organizations, worry a whole lot more about being a “leader of choice” than trying to make your organization an employer of choice. Amass enough of the former, and you’ll become the latter.
  • Rely less on your organization’s name and cache, and instead ask, “What’s it like here NOW? Does working here provide value beyond the paycheck?”
  • Know how you look on glassdoor.com and vault.com. I’m amazed at the number of people in the audiences I speak to who have never heard of these review sites, let alone looked at their organization’s reviews. It’s like a restaurateur ignoring Urbanspoon or Zagat. We can argue all day about how reliable employer review sites might be. And while we’re arguing, your best prospect will be checking you out to see what others have said.
  • Never stop recruiting. I live in an area frequently threatened by hurricanes. When Hurricane Matthew came through last month, I was glad we had already “recruited” some plywood, bottled water, and nonperishable food so that we didn’t have to stand in long lines for scarce supplies, as the winds were swirling around us. Come on, don’t get caught “getting in line” only after the need has arisen.
  • Build a community, not just a workplace. While people won’t think twice about leaving an “employer” (physically or emotionally), they’re far less likely to extract themselves from a family, or a community. Focus on the business, while providing people something meaningful they can connect to. Now, THAT they might be willing to join.
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