The term “bespoke” has traditionally been used to define custom-tailored suits. In her blog, Wendy Wilsker, Managing Partner, Boyden, explores the benefit of creating a bespoke experience for candidates and new employees.

By Wendy Wilsker
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I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “bespoke” lately. I first became familiar with this term several years ago when I engaged a brilliant Boston-based event consultant to partner with us on our annual fundraising events. Heidi Price of Heidi Price Design spoke often about creating a “bespoke experience for our events and for our donors." Heidi is the epitome of elegance and class as she believes in creating a personal, high-touch experience for her events – whether it is for 10, 50 or 500 guests.

The word bespoke is an adjective in British English. Initially, the word bespoke was “a past participle of the verb ‘to bespeak’ which meant ‘to exclaim or call out’, then it changed to describe ‘to discuss, decide upon,’ and lastly became ‘discussed in advance’, hence “it’s used to describe tailor-made garments,” says Cormac McKeown of Collins dictionary. This explains why it was used initially for tailor made suits on Savile Row, an upscale Mayfair neighborhood in central London.

When “bespoke” began to be used widespread, in the middle of the 18th century, it was often found describing things that one wears. Today, however, marketing leaders and managers are using this word phrase to describe ‘a custom-made experience’. Unfortunately, the term is still associated with high cost. However, as recently as last summer, David Carry, a contributor to Forbes magazine wrote the following, “To avoid a costly brain drain and a stagnant, unmotivated workforce, leaders need to reconcile themselves to providing a much more flexible and bespoke approach to employee engagement.”

What if we extend this concept of “bespoke” to the hiring process?

What if we thought about creating a personalized, high-touch experience for every candidate from initial conversations to onsite visits to onboarding?

What if we recognized, celebrated and optimized the individuality of each person, taking the time to understand what inspires and motivates them and include those values into hiring processes?

What if we began the onboarding process by really understanding a new hire – where they are at in their career, what their goals are, what kind of a mentor they would like and what they need to be fulfilled and successful. Too much attention is placed on paperwork and not enough emphasis on the experience of joining an organization nor defining what success will look like to that individual.

I worry today about the impact of “The Great Resignation” and the challenge of retention in the months and years to follow. Ever the optimist, I believe that we have the opportunity to lead, hire and to manage in new and more intentional ways, leading to longer tenures across the non-profit sector.

And maybe, just maybe one crucial strategy will be to apply the concept of “bespoke” to every aspect of recruiting, hiring, onboarding and retaining talent.

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