Thursday, January 14th, 2010
Cities obsess over attracting talent these days. I happen to think almost none of them are actually serious about it. But if they were, how should they go about doing it?
Most cities are in a fiscal bind right now, so for some time I’ve been asking myself what cities could do that would cost little to no money that could create a material uptick in their attractiveness to younger, college degreed people. I plan to start occasionally posting some of these.
My idea for today is a very simple one: change the local business culture so that it is not just tacitly tolerated but actively accepted to drink alcohol at lunch again.
I’ve never watched Mad Men, but assume it is a semi-romantic but ultimately disapproving portrayal of old school business where men go out for three martini lunches and sexually harass their secretaries and such. That’s not what I’m talking about.
Rather, I’m thinking the more European approach. Admit it, anyone who has ever worked in Europe and enjoyed a glass of wine or a beer with lunch has said to themselves, “Why don’t we do this?” Well, why don’t we?
I certainly never came of age in the “glory days” of bad boy behavior in business. The importance of professionalism, even when off duty, was stressed to me from day one, albeit in a less rulebound manner than today. But even I’ve noticed the increasingly “no fun” and “no risk too small to tolerate” mindset that’s more common in the business world today. The city that changed some of that in its business culture, that went back to a definition of professionalism based more around an expectation of the use of good judgment, not just CYA rules, might be able to differentiate itself.
A tactical and straightforward way to do this is simply to start drinking at lunch again. It’s tangible, it’s visible to anyone coming in for a job interview, and it lends itself to great marketing and visuals.
I realize this is probably easier said that done. Corporations, as I noted, are increasingly about risk mitigation today, and properly so in many respects. Many downtown employees work for government agencies, where there is a different public expectation. And many companies are headquartered elsewhere, so personnel policies are set far away.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way. And this one very simply is just a matter of will. It should be especially easier to pull off in smaller cities, where convening a business leader summit and gaining broad based buy-in should be easier. The cost is minimal, the potential marketing splash huge, the value in recruitment tangible.
If you’re a Midwest or other city looking to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, here’s a way to do it.