Employer Brand out: Employee Brand in…

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.

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14 thoughts on “Employer Brand out: Employee Brand in…

  1. Interesting post
    Hmm so all that happens in terms of employer branding should (altogether or to a degree) be left to chance and employees themselves?.
    I doubt that would work, or be effective. Even Zappos activities and employer branding has a steer and direction from some place, – things do not just happen without anyone taking an initiative!
    Call it our cultural heritage or the way that most have been brought up to think, but people are not that good at self-managing, most require if not firm directions then at least a framework.

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    • Hi Jacob. Thanks for the comment. I think in terms of your first point, I did refer to some core pieces of what i would call the organisation DNA that could be framed in the way you suggest – but for me even these should be determined through open customer/employee feedback. And i think if you set the scene properly, people do take the initiative!

      Onthe second point – “people are not that good at self-managing” – I would have to respectfully disagree! That in my mind is a myth, a manifestation of the command and control organisational model. Unfortunately there are precious few organisations around the globe that have been brave enough to challenge this notion. For many years Semco was one of the only examples but more recently Morning Star have come to my attention through a recent feature in the Harvar Business Review. I would also recommend the book – the Starfish and the Spider: The unstoppable power of the leaderless organisations by Ori Brafman and Rod A Beckstrom. You might also want to look up http://www.worldblu.com an organisation that champions freedom in the workplace.

      These strategies and beliefs are certainly not common,and very challenging to the current organisational ethos, but it doesn’t mean that they are not possible or valid!

      Thanks for commenting, appreciated.

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  2. I’m with you in never having quite believed in the employer brand scenario. Check this out that I wrote in November 09. http://www.recruitingblogs.com/profiles/blogs/is-the-term-employer-brand-a – however I’m not sure that “complete unmanaged, uncontrolled and unmonitored access to social media across the business” is the answer. You know that saying along the lines of a happy customer tells one friend, an unhappy customer tells everybody? Do you really believe that the average worked will eulogise favourably about their employer at every given opportunity? More chance they will only have a firm view when they feel aggrieved – and then they will do that, if they have any sense, amongst their friends, not in public via a social network.

    I think too much faith is put in the possibility that employees can become your ambassadors. Sure, a percentage may well do, but the risk is always that, as I said above, unhappy people tend to crow about stuff more than happier ones, particularly when it comes to the workplace. I wrote anoher related blog very recently http://www.recruitingblogs.com/profiles/blogs/i-don-t-buy-all-this-allowing-facebook-access-at-work-increases – in it I say that I don’t buy into allowing Facebook access at work as it “increases productivity”. I believe it will lead to many disciplinaries as some are unable to help their whole obsession with things social/online. You can see it in evidence every day. It IS an obsession with some. Unless it’s needed as part of your job I wouldn’t even allow access to Facebook during working hours. Employee banning anyone? 🙂

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    • Hi Alasdair! Thanks for the comment. Interesting posts – the second one i find totally depressing along with the majority of caveman responses! Sorry but i cant agree with you. firstly, im not suggesting that giving everyone access to social media is the only fuel for the employer brand. But its a necessary step in the natural sharing of how the organisation is, authentically. And actually, its a red herring – people already have access to these sites – via their mobile devices so they are already doing it, whether we like it or not! for an organisation to ban access on corporate machines thinking its stopping access is like trying to dam a river with a spoon! the point is they should open it up. Sure, not every company will find its all fine and dandy, but thats what happens when you have a crappy employee value proposition. Opening up the dialogue forces you to address a problem that many organisations have failed to deal with for years. They cant avoid it now – so better to participate and go with it, than try and swim against the tide. We are only are the very beginning of the impact of social, so if its leaking out now, its going to be a torrent in a few years.

      As for the productivity issues – if your company has a productivity issue – dont shoot the social media messenger! You company sucks? Deal with it. Social isnt the problem, its just the mechanism that exposed it.

      Appreciate your comments, thanks for stopping by!

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  3. I’m in a state of shock as I am in complete agreement with you. In fact I wrote a very similar blog on the “Candidate Experience” being a consequential phrase. The focus should be on the the “Recruiter (or Employee) Experience”. If you get the dynamics of your working environment right, everything else will follow.

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    • Crikey! This is a first ;). Spot on regarding your recruiter experience analogy – thats exactly where it stems from. Yet time and time again, we see this being ignored. I worked in the CRM market for a few years and I was amazed at how ignorant companies were about the impact of a good employee experience on the ultimate customer experience. Here they were, spending millions on CRM strategy and tehcnology, without giving a single thought to how this all plays out internally. Bonkers!

      Thanks for commenting and also for agreeing 😉

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  4. Compliments Gareth for in your answer substantiating and adding to original post and giving more food for thought. We are into the area of evolutionary talk I think, I will study.

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  5. HI guys
    Well, I have been in the anti-employment brand brigade for a very long time, even during my stint building the technolgy based practice Engage withing Euro RSCG Riley. Yet, in the last year I have have been turning over a new leaf, primarily because of the amazing project we have been on with the Rank Group.

    The employee experience segment, managed by Steve McNally, has gotten to the heart of what it is to work within Rank – across 4 brands and 140 locations. Internal focus groups and external research with candidates, employees and customers helped us to develp a dozen potential themes. These were re-tested with more research and narrowed down to the final Value Proposition, selected by over 2/3 of the research groups.

    Why does this work for me? Because it was part of an overall HR transformation project that includes all elements – attraction, selection, onboarding, internal career path (and a new employee talent pool) and even the onward journey – including a path for boomerang employees.

    This means that we have not been developing one Employment Brand. It is an employment ethos. The branding is different for the different businesses – but ties into the customer facing branding as well.

    And none of this was about the message delivery systems. It is about people.

    Cheers

    al

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    • Hi Alan! Welcome to the debate. Sounds like Rank are doing some great work there which is good. I like the overall transformation project and that its part of a much wider initiative which is good. The geographical reach is good too. And I totally agree with the employer brand ethos comment.

      Couple of things I wonder about –

      a) the determination of the values sounds fairly traditional, with focus groups, research etc. Nothing wrong with that per se, but its employer brand determination stock. Also, its an event – a transformation project. One of the implications I see and where im coming from in the blog is that this is now a continuous issue, running realtime. Not that I would expect values to change real time! But you know what i mean.

      b) Was social media or some form of social platform used for the customer and employee research/engagement around the project? And do they have totally open access to social and community tools so that they can continue, on a daily basis, to share the essence of what rank is about?

      To me, it is the move away from a ‘project’ type approach, where things are determined as an activity – “lets sort our values out” etc, to a more fluid, transparent and ope approach that, ongoing, gives an open view of what its like, good and bad.

      Thanks for the comment Alan, thought provoking as ever!

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  6. I enjoyed your post. And I agree. This morning I noticed the following whilst reading Gary Hamel’s “What Matters Now”.

    This is part of a list of things that are wrong with many businesses, in Gary’s opinion:

    “a company’s “brand” is a marketing concoction built with ad dollars (rather than a socially constructed portrait of its real values)”
    Gary Hamel

    Same for an employee brand. Creating the brand is not the destination. Much as with many companies I’ve personally experienced who enter Best Companies and other similar schemes and declare to their workforce that they aim to improve the scores for next year. That’s not the point is it? It’s just a measure. 

    And the employees are well aware of all this. 

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  7. @Flora, quoting one of the most influential and exciting and current management guru’s latest book really brings this topic to highest possible level.
    Question: do we ever create or take action about anything without looking at what it may lead to/result yielded?
    Whole purpose of whatever action may be is outcome, call it or package (marketing effort, best companies tables/leagues, push strategy use of online/offline tools employee/participant generated or deliberate construction/manipulation) whatever way you like, – that is what matters.

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  8. Gareth

    I couldn’t agree with you more re helping HR teams to realise that Employer Branding or Employee Value Propositions need to be based on a fuller undertsanding of the myriad of “employee” moitvations and needs.

    It also helps line managers to have a deeper and arguably more useful awareness of these different needs and drives (move over situational leadership).

    I do think it helps to define broad groups who share some similarities and I have always found it very useful to borrow marketing techniques here – segmenting employees not by the traditional and limited divisions of age, function, grade etc but by by their chief motivations to be with your or any organisaiton – using pen portrait techniques to develop a full undertsanding of who they are and what range of factors typically influence and motivate them.

    Once you have these groupings it is possible to identify what fundamental aspects are shared across the groups – this is your DNA – the core – but the practical and useful output is a tailored undertsanding of the different priorities for different segments and targeted EVP’s and then ensuring that the candidate & employee experience is consistently delivered accordingly – via line managers, the employee lifecyle touchpoints, and that all messageing (social media as well as organisational internal & external ) is real and authenitc to that reality – then their can be no embarrasing disconnect which so blatantly screams fake marketing campaign.

    Tracy @HoughHR

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