Retail sales up in January after drop in December: Statistics Canada
While many Alberta companies were struggling to find employees last year, Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd. sifted through 63,000 applications for 332 jobs.
David Irvine explains this contrast with one word: culture.
WestJet has become an employer of choice because it’s developed a clear corporate culture, and solidified it with reputation, said Irvine, a leadership and personal development expert, who spoke in Red Deer on Thursday.
The airline’s mantra — “We succeed because I care” — is one that staff are urged to memorize and practise, said Irvine during an employee attraction and retention presentation organized by Central Alberta Economic Partnership (CAEP).
“They have an image, a vision, of where they’re going,” he said, explaining that it appeals to customers — and employees. “If you’re going to retain and attract people, you have to have a vision of what you’re trying to build.”
In fact, said Irvine, a tight labour market shouldn’t be a concern if you carefully define and then live by your culture.
“Don’t worry about the economy, worry about your philosophy.”
Employees must be aware of your culture, and only job applicants who fit into it should be hired, he said. Employers often only consider applicants’ skills, which sets the stage for retention, productivity and other problems.
“WestJet spends 10 hours before they hire anybody,” said Irvine.
He suggested that an organization that can’t find someone who fits its culture, shouldn’t hire.
“My bias is it’s better to have a small company that’s successful than a large company that fails.”
Irvine also described ways to foster an appealing workplace environment. These include focusing on employee engagement, clarity, strong morale, minimal politics, low turnover and trust.
Building trust should be the Number 1 leadership priority, he said. Employers can do this by spending time with their staff, encouraging them and listening to their concerns.
Irvine drew a distinction between leaders and bosses, explaining that the former inspire, engage and connect with employees, while the latter manage, enforce, dictate and supervise.
“You will not attract and keep great people by being a boss,” he said, suggesting that a balance between the two must be struck, with at least half of an employer’s time spent leading.
Much of Irvine’s presentation dealt with the importance of ensuring employees are engaged: wanting to help the organization succeed and seeing their work as meaningful.
Such engagement can be encouraged by communicating a clear vision, setting a positive example, connecting with staff and learning what motivates them, he said.
With respect to motivation, Irvine recommends learning what excites and drives each employee both on and off the job.
“Wouldn’t you like to know what people’s sweet spot is away from work? Because if you can help them in their career to keep their sweet spot at home, in their personal life, you’ve got a loyal employee.”
In fact, said Irvine, research has shown that people who have clear personal values but are not clear about the values of their organization are almost as engaged at work as those who are clear about both.
As long as an organization pays a competitive wage, more money does not contribute to greater engagement, even though many employers assume this is the case.
“It’s easy to throw money at people.”
Irvine is a best-selling author with five books to his credit: Authentic Leadership: It’s About Presence, Not Position (co-authored with Jim Reger); Becoming Real: Journey To Authenticity; Simple Living In A Complex World: A Guide To Balancing Life’s Achievements; Accountability: Getting A Grip On Results (co-authored with Bruce Klatt and Shaun Murphy); and Bridges of Trust: Making Accountability Authentic.
CAEP is a regional economic development alliance, with 42 municipal members and 15 associate members in Central Alberta.