I’ve never really been big on the whole employer brand business. Obviously there is a purpose served in some way by trying to encapsulate what it’s like to work at an organisation and I think there has been some good work done in this area here and there.
Otherwise, for me, most of the stuff around employer brand has, over the last 15 years or so, been largely a way of keeping agencies in business and giving the HR and Marketing functions something to do. It’s roots are in web 1.0 – when all we really managed to do was put most of what we did in print form, online – job ads, CV’s and “company brochures”. OK, the technology added some nice bits and bobs, but largely it has been, and still is, brochureware centred almost exclusively around the company website.
The subject came to mind again the other day when watching Matt Alder’s rather nifty dispatches video series from his recent trip to the US. In the second installment he talks briefly about employer brand and how in conversation with John Sumser, they speculate that a single employer brand is no longer relevant. Instead, they suggest breaking it down into a number of niche employer brands.
I like the thinking, but does it go far enough? I’m not sure it does and I’m not sure the “employer brand” as we know it is actually relevant anymore. Indulge me for a minute if you will, with a quote from one of my favourite leaders, Greg Dyke.
“Leadership is about the stories that are told about you – both positive and negative. You’ll be judged by those stories more than anything you say or write”
Replace the word leadership with Employer Brand in the quote from Greg and the sentence still works. In this context the “truth” about an organisation’s leadership – the leadership brand if you like – is already determined by these stories, these conversations, no matter what guff the leadership might put out in an effort to create a vision of how it wants to be perceived. In the rapidly expanding social context, the employer brand is no different. In fact, the “truth” about an employer is already being laid bare the stories being told through online (and offline) conversations, increasingly on social media. In other words, employees are telling “stories”, increasingly so, in all sorts of places, naturally and unmanaged by the organisation. Therefore, in my mind this is no longer an employer brand message, it’s an employee brand message.
And I think this is a good thing. The employer brand was in no small way a manifestation of organisations trying to make themselves more appealing in the light of the biggest corporate red herring of all time – the war for talent. A lot of the output was purely a marketing excersise – what the organisation wants you to believe it looks and feelst like to be with Company X, their view of how great the business is and what it stands for. And whilst in some cases this did do a reasonable job of reflecting reality, in many it was far from it – the promise was often not delivered..
Everyone’s story about the organisation is an individual one. Sure, there are some common strands of DNA within an organisation, but largely every individual interprets these their own way, and talks about them in their own way too. In my view, organisations should maybe focus on getting the core DNA strands right – by listening to wide feedback from inside and outside the organisation – and letting the employees take care of the rest by opening up conversation opportunities wherever possible, across the entire organisation. This means complete unmanaged, uncontrolled and unmonitored access to social media across the business.
As Felix wetzel points out in his recent blog post for HR Examiner, zappos don’t focus on creating an employer brand. They just focus on making it an outstanding place to work. Their social ecosystem takes care of the rest. And this is where most organisations are going wrong – just like Engagement, Employer Brand has become and end in itself, when in reality, it’s purely an outcome.
Time to embrace openness and authenticity – its coming whether we like it or not. Those that get that bit right will, without trying, create an employee brand to die for. And all without spending a penny on a new campaign.