I participated in an executive round-table with the senior HR officers of some MAJOR companies recently. Everyone went around the room and shared their current challenges. I was amazed how often employment branding came up. In fact, I think every executive mentioned the need for better branding of their company to help recruit, retain and/or engage their workforce. Even companies you and I would think of as truly great companies, cited better branding as a priority need. If you are in this situation, here are some things that might bring you some peace of mind, or a way to begin your journey on improving your company's employment brand.
1. Know that every company is dysfunctional and/or sub-optimal in some way. Actually, in many ways! So while you think your company has more warts than you can count, that makes your company normal. :)
2. Every company has one or more truly compelling attributes. Not "unique." Unique does not matter. "Compelling" matters.
3. A great way to begin unearthing what makes your company compelling is to ask your employees what inspires them about your company, and what makes them proud to work there. A good way to ask that question is in a one-on-one format with a cross section of your company's employee base -- across divisions, silos, geographies, age spans, etc. I bet a pattern will begin to emerge from the answers. You'll hear the same phrases or concepts from many, if not most or all, of those questioned. The patterns in the answers are the foundation of your true employment brand.
For example, let's say a company named "Magenta" had a management team who felt its image in the marketplace wasn't so hot. They might feel the market looked at their company as boring, niche, silo'd, in a bad location, and/or cheap with pay and perks. Just as bad, the management team might think the market has never heard of the company, and that it has nothing much that could be considered special or marketable.
Let's re-visit the points made above for this situation.
1. Yes, "Magenta Company" has a lot of things about it that are a drag, many of which the market knows about. Big deal. Every company has issues.
2. "Magenta Company" has many compelling attributes. It just needs to realize what these are.
3. If "Magenta Company" asked a sample set of its employees (between 1 and 2 dozen people) what inspired them about the company, and what made them proud to work there, what they might hear back would be phrases like,
- "I get to work on challenging problems here."
- "I work with truly smart people."
- "Our company is making a difference. We ___ (fill in the blank)____."
Do you see what Magenta could be embracing here? What is truly compelling about its brand offering as a place to work and as a corporate culture? Magenta is the ideal company for smart people, who love to be empowered to solve problems, make things happen, and make a difference.
Wow. That's compelling to a lot of people out there. After a dozen or more interviews, it will become clear to you what your compelling or stand out offering(s) is as a place to work. Work that pattern into a value proposition that is worded from the perspective of the talent market.
I define a "value proposition" as, "The benefit exceeds the cost."
"The perspective of the talent market" means that your value proposition should center on what THEY get from working for your company, not who your company is and why your company is so great (for investors, potential customers, etc.)
---------- Okay, so those are the basics of your employment brand foundation. Next steps would be validating and refining the compelling aspects with the informal influencers, and the formal influencers inside your company, while also having honest conversations about what would make your company more compelling (ie. what is not good, and needs to be upgraded) as a place to work. You would then share the findings, and get to work on fanning the flames of the good, while bettering all that could be better.
During the "next steps" phase, remember that your people are your best branding mechanism and medium. Invite them into the process, and avoid at all cost having this be an initiative driven into the company by a chosen few (like you and your team.) "The Chosen Few" can be in the lead, design the framework, and make the final calls, but making this an inclusive, two-way process will enhance the final product (actually, it should be considered an "on-going living product"), and accelerate branding results faster than you could ever imagine.
Inclusive employment branding (what's in it for ME, as an employee), quickly evolves to a deeper sense of culture and community ("all about 'ME,'" transitions to" pride for 'US'") -- the latter is the foundation for your full company's brand identity, and your offering to the marketplace (the revenue driver.) This latter part is what will build stronger and deeper ties with your customers and potential customers. This is when every employee actually fills a role now taken primarily by your sales force and your CEO -- giving you a heck of a lot more from your S&GA expense line. Think ROI. Your payroll is already a huge sum. Why not work to get more return from that investment by enabling all of your employees to add to the affinity the market has for you. Be that the talent market, the local community surrounding your facilities, or the market of organizations who may want to buy what you have to offer.
When your people are carrying forth your brand values and identity every day, the need for a dedicated "initiative," budget, and weekly meetings on your part diminishes. Now, doesn't THAT sound nice?!
----------------- Talk Back -------------------
How does that framework on the basics sound to you?
Have you had success doing something similar? If so, how? Share your story.
If you could use some help positioning how this journey might unfold for your leadership team -- or seeing the bigger picture of "being" a great company in addition to "getting great company awards," contact me. I'd be happy to help. Because achieving branding success is fun, and truly making companies more invigorating, inclusive and thus more productive, innovative and awesome places to work, is even better.
Passionate people are productive people. And productive people make companies more profitable. That's what I think, anyway.
-- Polly Pearson
@PollyPearson on Twitter.