Volume 99: Overcoming a Bad Reputation

The first thing I do when I get a new search from a client is call everyone I know locally. It just makes sense, right? If I can find the right person locally, it removes the need for relocation, as well as making the interview process easier.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time the answer I get from these local candidates is not just “no”, but “hell no!”

Turns out there are facilities out there that people are wary or scared of going to work in because of a bad reputation. Turns out there are a lot of companies that have poor reputations.

This can be a huge challenge when it comes to trying to find the right people to fill your facility. If your reputation is bad, you’re going to have a harder time convincing top talent to even apply or consider your facility, which means you don’t even get a chance to convince them the reputation is false…

How Does This Happen?

There are a lot of reasons that companies develop poor industry reputations.

In some cases, these rumors are unwarranted and are passed on by sour, terminated employees. Right or wrong, everyone has an opinion, and in an industry this close together, that opinion is amplified.

A guy that’s spent his entire life in super high-performance facilities might not gel well with a specialty facility that runs a little slower. When he leaves, he might not have the best things to say about the management that “couldn’t run a facility to save their lives.”

On the other side, an employee that has spent his whole career in smaller, specialty facilities might have trouble keeping up with a super plant. This could result in him telling anyone that will listen how terrible conditions are.

In either of these cases, there’s not actually anything wrong with the culture or leadership of those facilities, they just hired the wrong people. It happens, unfortunately.

In some cases, the poor reputation is VERY well deserved, though.

The command-and-control, screaming-and-shouting-about-every-tiny-issue style of leadership isn’t tolerated by today’s workforce. Those that still try to use it will find themselves short-staffed, without a lot of prospects to fill their open roles. Very few people want to work in an environment that is run that way.

In some companies, the vision they share in their interview process about their work-life balance, vacation time, or shift schedule ends up being VERY different from the reality new employees discover upon start. These companies earn a poor reputation in the industry as well, and rightly so.

Deserved or not, plenty of your facilities have bad reputations, and it is affecting your ability to attract top talent.

What Can You Do?

There are three steps to overcome a poor industry reputation.

The first step is to identify the problem. This is the most challenging part, because, as usual, it requires you to be totally honest about your facility and leadership team. Is the rumor just the result of a few bad apples? Or is it a widespread culture issue?

The best way to do this is to talk to the people in your facility. For the most part, these reputation issues start and end with current and past employees that grumble to their friends or spouses, that then gossip to their friends and spouses, that then gossip to their… you get the idea. Suddenly, your facility sounds like some kind of authoritarian hellscape.

I recommend you sit down with your team and find out what they think about the facility and what they would change.

Obviously, you have to set this up in a way that people are comfortable sharing and being honest. The worst result is that employees tell you what they think you want to hear, because they think they’re going to get in trouble. In this case, you end up with a false, unhelpful view of the facility and will not be able to solve the challenge.

It’s always important to phrase your questions in a non-interrogatory way and allow people to open up to you on their own if you want their real opinions.

In addition, the adage that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” has often proven true in my experience. Take an employee to lunch, or have lunch catered into the office. (Recognizing that these are more complicated ideas during COVID.) You might be surprised by the feedback you get when people are comfortable talking, and how many good ideas even the quietest employees have that can make your facility better.

The second step is to make changes. Identifying and acknowledging the issues that are hurting your facility’s reputation are just the first step: you then have to own them and actively work to fix them.

If the doctor says your dangerously elevated blood pressure and cholesterol are the result of eating too much McDonalds and sitting on your butt all the time, and your answer is to stop for McDonalds on your way home to sit and watch three hours of TV, that’s a problem. You have to take action.

If it turns out the bad reputation is the result of a few bad eggs that don’t work there anymore, then maybe you should take a look at your hiring process and figure out what went wrong that those people were brought on board.

By diving in and identifying what traits you want, you can form questions that allow candidates to tell you themselves if they’re a good fit. That sounds better than randomly guessing with generic “what is your greatest strength” questions, right?

If the problem is that your culture and leadership style need work to be more employee-friendly, then the lunches I mentioned can be great.

If you’re humble enough to listen to criticism and learn, your employees will typically tell you what they need and want. Countless studies have shown that workforces that are happy, and feel supported by their employers, are more productive than the disgruntled masses at other companies.

The third step is to change the narrative. Once you’ve actively made changes and created a more employee-friendly culture, some of this news will get out on its own. Happy employees will tell their friends and past colleagues about the great stuff happening at their job. It’s free advertising!

Unfortunately, bad news spreads much more quickly than good, so you might need some extra help and there are a few paths you can take:

1.      Use social media, like LinkedIn, to highlight the employee-friendly changes you’re making and display your new and improved company image.

2.      Call a well-respected vendor or recruiting resource to help get the word out. Vendors and recruiters tend to have their fingers in all parts of the industry, which can help spread a message a little bit more quickly.

3.      Call one of the many wonderful publications in our industry and talk to them about doing a feature of some kind about the tangible changes in your facility and the positive impact on your employees and production. These publications are always looking for a good story to run, and this can put a lot of extra eyes on your company’s story of change and improvement.

Conclusion:

Whether deserved or not, a bad reputation can make it nearly impossible to find the right talent for your facility. In some cases, this creates a self-perpetuating cycle where the wrong people are hired because the facility is desperate, and then they leave and continue to spread bad rumors about the facility.

At the end of the day, the only way to overcome a bad reputation is to identify the source problem, make necessary changes, and then change the narrative. By doing these things, you’ll find yourself in a much better position to hire the best the industry has to offer.

Stay Strong.

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