We all want to work for interesting, exciting and meaningful companies. For many of us, the decision on where we work is equally as important as the house we live in or the people we surround ourselves with.

We spend an increasingly large portion of our lives at work so finding the right employer is a process that we take very seriously. Candidates are faced with more information than ever about what defines a company and what sets it apart from the competition. Glassdoor reviews, LinkedIn articles and even CEO Q&A sessions on YouTube are a few of the ways candidates can assess the calibre of a potential future employer. Candidates will often look to “employers of choice” as their first port of call. Does this mean they are successful, cash rich and well-established business?

the Internship poster
Google, the poster boys for “employer of choice”

Maybe, but there’s much more to it than that. The term “employer of choice” might have become another business buzz-word, but it represents a shift in power where candidates are now in the driving seat with where they work. The “choice” part being most important, as candidates decide for themselves whether they work for you or not. Get your employee value proposition wrong and you’ll lose candidates to your competitors. For you to be able to attract and retain talent it’s important that you establish yourselves as a go-to destination for the skilled workers that drive your business.But what does it take to become an “employer of choice”? Follow these four critical steps and you’ll not be far off:

Forge your own culture, don’t replicate

Creating and sustaining an authentic company culture could be one of the biggest factors on whether you become an employer of choice or not. Your culture is made up of your values, vision, beliefs, and habits. Look at where the business came from, where and why it started and what you do best, as this will help you to understand both culture and purpose.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
Peter Drucker, legendary Management Consultant

A successful company culture elsewhere isn’t a one-size-fits-all blueprint that you can just replicate. For a culture and way of doing things to be embedded and sustain it has to be legitimate and authentic. No one wants to work for a company that’s trying to be someone else, it’s just awkward. Think about ways to regularly let everybody know who you are, why you exist and what you stand for. Once you’ve created a positive, inclusive and drive

Inspire from the top down

It’s great to have an inspirational executive team and board of directors, but how much face time do they get with the actual workforce? Quite often it’s very little. One of the most inspirational CEOs I’ve ever worked for only used to visit the main office a few times a year at best. Usually, it’s department heads, line managers and team leaders that hold the keys to company culture. These people direct the daily roles for most of your workforce and it’s from them that employees will often build up a picture of what it’s like to work there. Having developed and defined your company culture, it’s important that your leaders help to instil these core values and norms on a daily basis and have the creative freedom to do so. Give your leaders freedom to be accountable and proactive and this will help to transform the employee experience altogether. People want to work for great managers, so get this right and it will become even easier to hire skilled talent.

Instigate open and honest feedback, both ways

No one likes being left in the dark, so it’s essential that you think of effective ways to knowledge share, update and inform your workforce. Companies that have communication down to a T set the standard for the rest of us. Employees want to feel in the loop with key business decisions and changes, and likewise want to easily be able to share their ideas, feedback and concerns on an ongoing basis. Don’t rely on an annual employee survey as your method for gathering feedback, it simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Modern, ambitious and forward-thinking companies are adopting much more sophisticated ways of gathering feedback and actioning positive change. Developing an ongoing measure of engagement and feedback is going to help your business to be more agile and proactive (which won’t go unnoticed). Employees want to be able to share their feedback when it’s most important to them so having an easy outlet to do this will significantly improve the employee experience.Gather feedback. Take action. Improve. Repeat.

Get the basics right

It can be easy to overlook the small things when thinking about the big picture. The environment, office space, facilities and benefits can have a huge impact on you becoming an employer of choice or not. A bright, clean and colourful office space with modern facilities will show candidates that you invest in your company and take pride in your appearance. You don’t necessarily need to go as far a treehouse in the main atrium or slides between floors, but a tidy space with lots of natural light can make a big difference to working conditions.Your benefits package is also a signpost to the value you place on your employees and if you “give back”. Develop a flexible benefits package that is relevant to people’s lives, not just free stuff and a beer fridge. Becoming an “employer of choice” means developing an environment and way of doings things that attracts, inspires and motivates your employees. It’s not rocket science. Define your culture. Rely on your leaders to instil it. Listen to your employees and make changes. Nail the basics and make your company somewhere people want to be.