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How do you convince a well-paid private sector executive to leave a comfortable position, take a big pay cut and work for the government? Just ask the City of Denver, which hired Frank Daidone, the former CIO at Chipotle, as its new CIO in 2013.

The Colorado capital's IT department lured Daidone away from his private-sector gig by turning to a new hiring approach that taps into a candidate's desire to find meaning in work rather than grow margins for someone else. To stay competitive and attract top talent, smart public sector hiring teams are focused on fulfilling employee needs beyond compensation and benefits — emphasizing personal satisfaction and accomplishment in the recruitment process.

In Denver’s case, the government got Daidone's attention by running an unconventional job posting for the city’s vacant Chief Information Officer position. Rather than listing the role’s main responsibilities and qualifications, the posting includes language like, “Can you imagine actually doing something about the issues facing your community?” and “We need you ...You could change the world.”

David Edinger, Denver’s chief performance officer, said his team's recruitment strategy for the CIO position centered around proving to Daidone that in this role, he could really make a difference. "Our recruitment became all about convincing him that increasing the market share of burritos was not his calling; it was instead improving the quality of life for the community where he lived," Edinger said in an interview with Governing Magazine. "We made it clear that this is a job where, at the end of the day, you wish you could do more but you have to get home to your family."

This tactic makes sense, especially when you consider the broader trends in today’s talent picture. Appreciation for one’s work ranks as the No. 1 factor for on-the-job happiness, according to new research from the Boston Consulting Group. According to that report, an attractive fixed salary was the eighth most important factor for happiness on the job, trailing good relationships with colleagues and career development opportunities.

Broadly speaking, global satisfaction among public sector employees in 2014 is at 59 percent, according to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results conducted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Overall employee engagement came in at 64 percent, with NASA (77 percent) and the Federal Trade Commission (76 percent) topping the list with the highest scores. These are impressive figures, and they back up the argument that the public sector is the place to be for workers who are looking for a purpose-driven career. 

Of course, appealing to a candidate's values must extend beyond the recruitment process — especially for organizations looking to attract younger workers. The OPM report found that 63 percent of Millennials currently working in public-sector jobs reported a feeling of personal satisfaction derived from work, compared to 71 percent of older generations. This gap is something that hiring managers must take into account as they plan their talent management strategies for the future. Millennials are expected to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, and this group is more interested in personal fulfillment at work than a paycheck

For companies to thrive in the long run, focusing on purpose-driven work as the local government of Denver has done will be vital. As Sienna Zampino writes on Forbes “Organizations who wish to prosper will focus more time on meaning at work, have an organizational purpose and contribution which gives people a sense of satisfaction and a genuine feeling that they are making the world a better place.”

Photo: Denvergov.org