Welcome to the first feature in our new series, Expert Interviews, where we invite a panel of leading industry experts to answer our customer’s most burning questions relating to improving their culture.
One of the key business lessons I learned early on is that it makes a lot of sense to obsess over the employer brand. And, having talked to so many of our customers who are also obsessed by their employer brand, I know we’re not alone.
So we reached out to some of the world’s leading HR experts and asked:
I’m delighted to say that we’ve managed to convince some of the top authorities on employer branding to generously share their words of wisdom with our readers.
Ready? Let’s hear it from the Experts…
Here are 3 strategies that you can apply to improve your employer branding efforts and attract top talent to your company:
- Address the entire employee journey Many companies treat employer branding like a marketing campaign. They focus their efforts on building flashy career pages with professionally-developed copy and videos. Look at most career sites and you’ll see the same things over and over again: Company values, focus on diversity, job opportunities, and benefits being offered. Although all these things are important, they only cover a small area of life at your company. Your employer branding efforts should address the entire employee lifecycle, from the time a candidate applies to a job up until they leave the company. Address your recruitment process and what day-to-day life at the company looks like. Talk about how you manage performance and develop your talent. Tell potential candidates how you deal with conflict and some of the challenges and opportunities they will experience while working for your company. An impactful employer branding effort is one that can give candidates a preview of what life at your company looks like from the first day until the last day.
- Align your recruitment process to your employer brand Candidates first interact with your company during the recruitment process. That entire process should align closely to the core pillars of your employer brand. If you’re positioning yourself as a fast-moving company, then your recruitment process can’t take months before candidates hear back from you. Your recruitment process should be an extension of your brand.
- Keep measuring and monitoring Every employer branding effort should have specific objectives such as improving hire quality or increasing employer brand awareness. No matter the objective, make sure you’re consistently measuring relevant metrics to understand whether your initiatives are working or not.
The simplest truths are often the most profound. One of the core truths that guides my professional life is that empathy and transparency have the power to inspire dedicated employees and loyal customers. These attributes serve as the foundation for an authentic culture, strong company vision, and trusted brand identity.
Fostering an Authentic Culture
Your corporate culture is a reflection of your leadership team. Leaders that embrace empathy and transparency in their conversations and actions foster a culture of authenticity. Prioritize meaningful discussions in which all parties talk, share, listen, and care. There is an art to conversation, and it honestly boils down to just being human.
The rise of digital technology has driven us all online and reduced the authenticity of our conversations with team members, customers, and vendors. Because of this, business leaders that embrace empathy and transparency often exceed the expectations of their customers and employees.
Offering a Meaningful Vision & Purpose
People want to be part of something special, so a company's vision and purpose go beyond specific services and financial goals. A meaningful vision and purpose make a substantive difference for employees, customers, and the community in which you operate.
Most professionals would prefer to join a company doing its part in making a difference in the world (even if it is in small ways). Companies that demonstrably care about their community and any relevant causes will attract more dedicated employees and improve their brand’s positive influence. This concept is not limited to philanthropic or socially-driven organizations. Even brands that offer a commodity product can add value and work towards something bigger than themselves.
Sharing Your Story with The World
From the outside looking in, consumers and potential customers actively seek positive content online. We're all drowning in heavy and stressful stories and life events, so when a beacon of hope is made visible by a brand online, it can have quite an impact.
Business leaders should be consistently highlighting authenticity and empathy across multiple social media channels. There are so many platforms to choose from, including LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, and YouTube, as well as tools such as stories and boosted content. These channels serve as valuable touchpoints with employees and customers and can engage with various demographics. Using omnichannel branding, you should be aiming to deliver a consistent, positive message that helps improve your brand sentiment and exposure.
Showcase your Employer Value Proposition (EVP). When a candidate visits your career page and LinkedIn company profile, they should get a very clear idea of the company’s values, culture, and vibe. Why should a candidate want to work for you? This is your recruiting sales pitch, but note that it must be legitimate. This is a great place to show more pictures, videos, and quotes from employees.
Focus on independent contributors here and let them shine. If your company says they value transparency, talk about how that is operationalized. Does “transparency” mean a weekly email from the senior leadership team recapping the week or does it mean that there are no silos and lots of cross-collaboration? Note: if it’s the former, you do not have a culture of transparency, and claiming this as a value is illegitimate. As a candidate, I should be able to look at your EVP page and have a good grasp of whether or not I would fit in with that vibe, understand roughly how things work (e.g. hierarchical or flat organization), and, ideally, feel compelled to join. Remember, however, that your EVP has to be legitimate.
If you say you have a flat, agile organization, yet you have multiple layers of management and silos, then you need to either change your EVP or change your culture so they are well aligned. This is also a good place to highlight the supplementary aspects of the company, such as ERGs, weekly virtual games, happy hours, and outings.
Your biggest asset is your people. Use them! Once you have a strong culture, high engagement, and an EVP, turn your employees into brand ambassadors. Set parameters, of course, but encourage them to talk about your company. If you use TikTok, you’ve surely seen Starbucks baristas sharing drink recipes that they've created. I would bet that Starbucks discourages this and has a clause in their contracts or policy in their handbook about not sharing company information. But these videos get thousands, if not millions, of likes, show the barista having fun and being engaged in their work, and drive sales as we viewers rush to our local Starbucks to give it a try.
Your company could hop on this trend and encourage employees to share funny anecdotes, talk about their work, and talk about how great the company is. Twitter and Facebook still exist somehow and the same sharing should be promoted. Most employees are afraid to speak publicly about their employer; flip that and encourage it. These brand ambassadors can help drive recruitment, increase sales, and spread the word about your company.
As long as employees are advised not to share trade secrets, proprietary or protected information, or announcements not yet cleared for publication, it’s free marketing. Encourage employees to follow the organization on socials and follow them back. This not only boosts your social media engagement but also gives your marketing team a chance to see what people are posting to ensure policy compliance.
If someone does post something that you don’t want to be shared, assume good intent and nicely ask them to remove it. Accidents happen; don’t make it into something bigger or they will surely share more anonymously. Also, let the brand ambassadorship come naturally; don’t force it or make it feel sanitized. And don’t actually name people brand ambassadors.
Know your "special sauce."
Strong employer branding is easy when you're clear on what makes you unique in your business. Our CEO, David Couper, had a powerful vision when creating DCC: help people find joy in their work. Our tagline was a no-brainer, "People are the REAL bottom line." That concept informs our systems, communications, hiring practices, and an in-depth and personalized approach.
Reflect your mission externally AND internally.
In business, it's understandable to focus on the next sale. But what will make you shine and grow are your invested people. We learned we need to treat our cadre of consultants as well as, if not better than, the client. Using our tagline as inspiration, we created systems to support them that feel personal and hands-on. Keep repeating your mission back to yourself when thinking about systems, processes, and communication.
Your humanity is your superpower.
One of my favorite things about David Couper is his willingness to be vulnerable. A huge traumatic event changed his life, then inspired his leap of faith to create DCC. The lesson here is this; tell your story. Be vulnerable. Your people and the people looking to work with you connect with your humanity. The thing that drives you to do what you do sells your product/service. It informs your mission, defines your unique approach, and engages people. Don't be afraid to be fully you.
Your brand is how you connect your company to its stakeholders. It is your story, your reason for being, wrapped up in a package through your company name, logo, website, and culture used to attract the stakeholders to join you in your mission. Having a compelling employer brand helps you find candidates that are great fits for the roles you seek to fill and, more importantly, correctly set expectations for what it means to be a part of your organization.
I recently built my company’s brand. I came up with the company name, logo, and the story of what we do. But when I looked at it from a customer’s perspective, I couldn’t see how to connect the dots between what the company is doing and why someone would want to be a part of it. Something was missing.
One of my favorite Ted Talks is Simon Sinek describing his golden circle model. Rewatching it helped me improve my brand by reorganizing my message. I believe it is excellent advice to enhance your employer brand.
First, explain why you exist. You want employees who believe what you believe. Make sure your mission statement is clear and persuasive. When candidates start talking to people in your organization, it should come to life.
Second, be clear about how you function. These are the values that drive your company. They are what you stand for. Potential and current employees can then align their values with those of the company to share in the mission.
Finally, describe what you do and what defines success. It is essential that candidates understand their role and how it fits into the mission. It provides a clear line of accountability for everyone.
Taking this “inside-out” approach to your brand will help you attract and keep the right people.
In these unusual times when finding great talent is difficult, employers need to re-examine what they are offering to potential employees. There are dozens of ways to “check you out” as an employer, and you no longer have the luxury of ignoring social media, or assuming people will join your company just because you’re offering a job. Your brand is more than just your logo and even your culture (although culture is a huge part).
Today’s job seekers are savvy, and they have lots of options. Employers need to look at their company through an employee lens. They need to understand what’s important to workers (especially younger workers) who are considering a place to land to offer their skills. Here are a few things to think about.
- Be real about your culture. Don’t assume you know what your employees think, ask them. Do a survey or just ask the question – what’s it like to work here? What’s great and where can we improve? Your existing employees are brand ambassadors (for better or worse), so if they are happy, they will carry that message out into the world.
- Evaluate your benefits. Similar to culture, don’t assume the benefits you are offering are important to your team – ask them. You may be surprised to find out what’s important to you isn’t to them.
- Focus on development – this is one of the most important things to younger workers. What are you offering to advance their learning opportunities, even if it’s internal?
Your employer brand is defined by the employee experience. Period. If you want to improve your brand, improve that experience (which by the way, starts with the recruitment process - everything you do from your posting to your interviews communicates your brand). Take a new view. Would you want to work for you?
Having a great brand as an employer is a key element in attracting and retaining the talent a company needs for sustainable profitable growth. There are many elements to improving your brand, and below are 3 strategies to do so.
Make your brand intentional
The culture at work defines your brand more than most realize. You need to know what your current culture is and possibly define changes. What do you want current and former employees to say about working for you?
Once defined, ensure that your values are aligned and lived on a daily basis.
Share your brand with the world
Design a comprehensive social media strategy that reaches your customers and potential future employees. Identify where your audience will likely be on social media and create targeted marketing of your company and brand. Encourage your employees to become your brand ambassador and provide them with information about your company they can easily use to spread the word. Nothing is more credible than genuine testimonials.
Cultivate your brand
You cannot build your brand without feedback from your employees. In order to define it in the first place, you would need to know how they would describe the current culture and what they tell you is important to them, so they want to work for you. Most people want to be valued and appreciated, feel part of something, have opportunities to grow, and feel they are paid fairly. Over time their priorities may change (or the demographics of your workforce changes), therefore it is important to have a frequent pulse of where they are, so you can ensure your intentional culture and brand does not change unintended.
Genuine employer branding is something we practice in our business life all the time. Genuine employer branding is NOT a seasonal project or something which ends with the last day of onboarding.
Your employer brand is something you communicate clearly (ideally) with the external world and it manifests itself in every step of the experience of working for your business.
If building and living a genuine employer brand is what you’re after, the following thoughts might resonate with your intention. Stay with us! :)
Are you creating a work environment where people can project themselves into? Are you aware of the talent market segment you are targeting? If your end goal is to make people feel better about themselves for selling their time and knowledge to your business, this will be noticed first and foremost by your customers and in your bank account.
Strategy #1: use Awareness to understand the current reality of your employer brand.
It’s really difficult to reach the goal of having a genuine image when we don’t understand clearly our current situation.
Seeing what’s working well already and simply what is, without judgement is the base of ensuring a lasting transformation. In contrast to popular belief, which promotes highlighting what is wrong, simply using the Gestalt model of the paradoxical theory of change will bring you the results you aim for. The paradoxical what...? As you are reading now, try to sit with this thought for a few moments and see how it impacts you, the reader: real change happens when we become who we are, and not when we try to become who we aren’t. (A. Beisser).
Once you get a taste of what the awareness around your employer brand feels like to You, your colleagues and to the talent market of your choice, we encourage you to continue this practice and build it in your monthly or quarterly plan.
Strategy #2: Gather real time data provided by your team members to be aware of the atmosphere in your business. Introducing means to properly measure employee engagement will enable you to identify problems in time and to act rapidly. When you miss out on this step, you risk creating unwanted turnover and high recruitment costs, not to mention a bad hit for your previous employer branding efforts.
Strategy #3: Collaborate with the team responsible for branding to create an employer brand identity which is in alignment with the overall image of your business. Tap into your available and precious resources, listen to your colleagues, but also educate them on the information you gathered already to bring forth all the genuine aspects of who you are as a business. Collaboration between HR and Marketing is key when you have an established team.
There are a few directions you can go with this - since I’m in the Recruiting/HR space, I’m going to approach "brand" from that angle!
Strong brand starts from building a strong company culture. If what you “project” does not match “what’s inside” you will be exposed! Create strong people operations – build a collaborative team environment; investigate turnover and create strategies to offset negative trends; incorporate career growth opportunities for staff into your business strategy. Companies that do this well will be highly sought after.
Market your company culture to your candidate pool. Your “sales” market is not your only competitive market. (Ex. You may sell a CRM tool and compete more directly with similar groups for sales, but you are competing for talent with much more diverse businesses). With that, the candidate market is arguably the most competitive market you’re in. Allocate marketing budget towards your recruiting function.
Create an engaging interview process. Consult with your HR/Recruiting teams to create an interview process that is designed to be thorough yet quick to meet market demand. Build a progressive interview process that allows you to grab a diverse viewpoint of the candidate. Make time to allow the candidate to ask questions and take opportunities to share insights with the candidate for them to learn about the company, role and culture. Be real with candidates - set expectations. It’s not bad that you may work in a challenging industry and/or if a particular role can be demanding – be transparent with candidates. When expectations are set proactively, you’re going to get satisfied candidates and motivated employees!
When you do these things well, you create a strong talent attraction arm to your business. Your business will improve as you attract and hire stronger talent. Improved business = improved company brand!
Several years ago, I worked for a very onerous organization. One day I got on the elevator with three employees from another employer. They were laughing, having a great time so I said “Man, I’m coming to work for your company. They said “No, we’re just happy to get the ”heck” out of here ”….and people are our most important assets ..yeah right.”
Employees are not stupid. Too often employers, fail to properly show true appreciation.
Linking the Employer’s Brand Value to HR Brand Value
One way to do this is to link the organization’s overall Brand Value to an HR-related Brand Value. If an employer’s Brand Value were: “Where low price and high-quality meet”, the HR Brand Value might be: “Working together to create high quality products at competitive prices”. HR might have an accompanying sub-branded logo for its HR portal and for outgoing communications.
Creating A Culture that Lives the HR Brand Value
Employers need to actually prove they are helping employees “live the brand”. The question should be: ”If we are to have a culture where employees create both high quality and low cost, what would the drivers be?” There are a number of culture assessment tools that measure the level of drivers within work teams for purposes of process improvement
Hidden Needs Identification
HR and Benefits have done a good job providing and communicating employees more obvious “Total Rewards”. But real appreciation requires the identification of employees’ hidden needs. HR needs to help employees “see the unforeseen”. Here an Employee Wellbeing Survey preceded by focus groups would be beneficial to help identify what all underlying needs e.g. health, financial, social, etc. exist within the workforce and then prioritize them for action on the HR To-Do-List