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Is “Be Our Guest” Really the New Employment Paradigm?

You’re looking for exceptional candidates who have either just graduated with an advanced degree or are ready to move on from their current employer to seek out their next position in Silicon Valley. How will they choose the best company to work for? What will they look for in their first or next employer? Will they compare cafeteria menus against each other? Will they rate companies on a scale of nap pods per capita? Will they ask if you have a fitness center and access to personal trainers? Will they ask about the broadband capabilities of your clean fuel commuter buses? And the age old question a good friend of mine once asked, “Will the Brie on the cheese trays in the cafeteria ever be the correct temperature?”

It’s no laughing matter actually. I have worked at companies where there are in fact quantitative answers to these questions and they have been asked by more than one candidate at some point in the interview process. Many of those questions are now passé. These perks are fast becoming the norm for companies to offer their employees. Even high-end swag has lost the cool factor. These perks no longer represent a competitive edge for large or even small companies in the Valley. The elite candidates, the cream of the crop, those tech savvy, top tier grad-schoolers or brilliant self-taught coders are not wooed by this window dressing. Those perks may have been the talk of the industry a few short years ago, along with a steady job and a paycheck of course, but what are these candidates really looking for in today’s market? They want more. More?! What more could they want? It’s actually not so much what they want, it’s what they want to do and how they want to do it. They want to have impact. The newest crop of Silicon Valley recruits want to be a part of that amazing development team that is truly changing the way people interact with the world. They want to know that they are changing lives for the better.

In the 2020's we could say that this is a real-time interpretation of the “self-transcendence” level of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Need”. I know that you're thinking, "he means self-actualization". Nope, look it up, there is actually a level called self-transcendence and it means almost exactly what you think it means. At it's core it tells us that these candidate long to have a high level of positive impact on the lives of an ever-increasing group of people gives the individual worker of today a greater sense of purpose, more job satisfaction, and far greater self-esteem. Not to say that today’s job seeker is more needy on a personal level than ever before, but that this basic human need couples with the technology today that allows us to reach farther and affect more people in a way that results in even greater self-worth. So the job seeker of today is looking to have that greater, farther reaching affect more than ever before in today’s connected world. While not true for everyone that has come before, generations of the past may have merely sought to meet their own self-actualization by achieving a level of living comfortably and providing for one’s family and being rewarded for good work through praise, awards or additional compensation. That used to be enough for the average job seeker, but all of that has changed. Today’s new paradigm embraces the broader reach and scope to be able to affect the world at large. It is no mystery that the biggest and fastest growing segment of technology today is in social media. Companies that have a broad reach across all demographics to bring news and entertainment to the fingertips to everyone whether they are sitting in a stroller or a nursing home, in the city or in the desert, or anywhere in between. We have game-ified everything from ordering socks to sitting in traffic. The next gen job market is all about having the biggest impact on the largest audience there is...everyone. Spurred by social media and even to some extent the advent of the gig-economy allows any individual whether through their vocation or avocation to embrace the idea that they can and should be impactful on making the world a better (or at least more entertaining) place. So being able to take part in all of that and to do it in a way that improves people’s lives is a top priority for these candidates. However, the greater impact on others is not the only part of what the job-seeker of today is looking for. Today’s candidates also want to know that they will grow and develop in their new role. That their new role will have an exponential impact on their own life. That they will have just enough autonomy to control their own destiny within the organization, but still be guided towards success by their management. It is not enough to take a job where you know what is expected of you and that you have the tools to do the job. What needs to be discoverable to these job-seekers through the interviewing and on-boarding process is that they will be able to and encouraged to develop new skills, acquire new abilities, and advance their career.

The job seeker of today and tomorrow needs to see that others in the organization are choosing their own path to success and that they will have opportunities to do so in a way that aligns with their personal goals as well as those of the company. They want to be challenged enough to feel a sense of great achievement as they become masters of new technologies, subject matter experts, and leaders in their chosen domain. To have the doors open to become the best of the best of the best. Ultimately all of this, the desire to have impact on the world and grow and develop as an individual, comes together in terms of what they are seeking in their next position. So how do we, as HR and Talent professionals, sell that opportunity to candidates without sounding like some cliché all-hands scene from HBO’s Silicon Valley or Succession? We let them know that they are not just another cog in the wheel or butt in a seat. We show them how to get to the path they know they want to be on. That we can offer a career path that will help them achieve their growth potential through mentorships, education, and development opportunities. We point them in a direction where the challenges are significant, but they can make their own decisions about how to tackle them. Where guidance on those paths is provided more as a safety-net than as a guidebook. We let them know that their personal development is as important to the organization as organizational success. That we understand and embrace the idea that when they are excited about their career they give more to it to get more out of it. We let them know that what they will do matters to people.

How do we show these fresh recruits this? How do we let them know? We start by giving them a voice in the business. We are straight forward, honest, and transparent about how the business operates, how they fit into it, and what it does for others. We show them those open doors to their growth and development by engaging with the right partners to give them the value add they are looking for in an employer. We encourage them to develop skills that they will carry with them throughout their career. We share the data and the metrics about the business with them so they can see the impact it is having, the impact they are having, on a daily basis. This real commitment to each employee is respectful and it empowers them to make decisions about their career development armed with the information they need. We respect each employee as a whole person. We want them to take time for themselves as well, to be able to grow outside the office and incorporate some of that self-transcendence that doesn’t happen at work. We want to make sure that they allow themselves the time they need to live their life. In that we do not see them as just another hire that pays the business back with productivity, but that they have the opportunity to grow and develop and have impact on the world with excitement and enthusiasm that accelerates their own sense of being. Any Silicon Valley software startup should understand that employee engagement needs to be based upon the idea that there is a philosophical exchange between the employer and the employee - where both parties understand that they are in the relationship to provide for each other but it must go well beyond, “you do work for us and we’ll pay you.” The company side of this exchange is not to be taken lightly by any means. The organization must have ambitious goals tied to aggressive milestones that require each and every employee to be on their toes and working exceptionally hard to reach those goals and milestones. In most cases that means the business will be driving to meet the needs of an ever-changing and rapidly growing constituency. Most days that means the lights are never turned off and the company expects nearly round the clock commitment from everyone. The opportunity for organizations line these to have global impact by delivering cutting-edge solutions that will enhance and improve the lives of others is immeasurable. So it should be no mystery to anyone that the expectations these employees have of us as their employer are at least as high as our expectations of them as employees. On the other side of this exchange we we need to respect and actively grow and develop every employee in every stage of their career. Even before they join our companies we need to encourage them to plan on learning new technology, engage in online learning, and order the latest educational materials that interest them. We need to encourage them to embrace the notion of autonomy in order to encourage their creative side, ultimately making it more exciting to join our organization and own our mission as their own. They need to walk in the door focused on learning as much as they are focused on doing the important work to advance our organizations. But it is not just about advancing the business, it is about their development both inside and even outside the office. We should provide a vast technical library and offer access to a wide range of courses and affinity groups inside the company. In a competitive company that might include offerings that include programming classes, Product Management courses, Women in Engineering groups, Scuba Diving instruction, flight school, and Yoga sessions. We might also explore providing fitness trainers who lead off-site activity programs and fun games outdoors during or after office hours. We should bring in technical leaders from across the industry as guest speakers as another way to recognize the broad interests of these new recruits. In terms of global or at least local impact companies can engage with organizations like Second Harvest Food Bank and encourage employees to get involved with organizations like Big Brother/Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, The Family Giving tree, and other community based organizations. Ultimately, it is an imperative for these job seekers that they see and feel a company level commitment to do right by them and the greater community. As company culture leaders and arbiters of the next generation human resources and people operations organizations we must recognize that the respect of the individual can’t just stop with the employee. We must also place a high value on their family members. It is more the norm today to invite employee’s families, including their parents, into the office to join them for lunch, or to participate in office celebrations. Our organizations should be allowing employees the flexible time they need to spend with their family. Having an awareness of how their work life impacts their home life is another way to genuinely build trust, respect and loyalty with the employee population. This flexibility is fast becoming even more important to today’s job seekers than any of the other perks that are being offered. So the next wave of hires are not looking at or hoping to be wowed by the additional company perks that surround the day-to-day job like meals and snacks and swing set conference rooms. They are looking for opportunities to contribute to meaningful and impactful goals and objectives over a broader spectrum than ever before. They want strong leadership that is unified across the executive suite and is outlining a clear mission tied to that opportunity to have impact. It is important to them to work in an environment where they will be inspired and motivated by management that recognizes their interest in integrating parts of their life into their work. And they want to see clear evidence of that throughout the recruitment process and their full employee life-cycle. If you can be that employer then even in this competitive market for top tier talent - these candidates will start lining up outside your door. In this new paradigm the question may never be asked, “Will the Brie on the cheese trays in the cafeteria ever be the correct temperature?”, But just in case, as my good friend Dave Stone found out ... the answer is no.

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