Employer Branding: Widen the Lens

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Your employer brand may not be what you think it is. It likely has more potential and power than you realize.

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As an ad agency, it makes sense that our discussions with clients on the topic of employer branding would center on formal communications. So we enter into a dialogue on:

  • The research process
  • The EVP
  • Company differentiation & strategic positioning
  • The creative process & message testing
  • Standardization of communications enterprise-wide
  • Media identification and message deployment

The ultimate goal is to get on-point communications that resonate with best-fit talent. Not everyone, but best-fit talent. True believers. While this is all great and necessary, the question is whether or not formal communications represent the whole of employer branding. For some in our space, yes, that represents the extent of it.

I don’t think they do—not by a long shot.

If we view employer branding holistically and strategically, we go to a place more elemental. There are most certainly strategic aspects of formal communications to both internal and external audiences. Widening our lens, however, we discover that formal communications are one tactical aspect of a larger employer brand strategy. To think about employer branding holistically, we need to consider the operational aspects of an organization, as each of these (1) communicate; (2) either elevate or work against the brand. Certainly there are gradations of impact. The question is where are the disconnects and to what degree are they frustrating the employer brand? And more importantly, what needs to happen to bring things into alignment?

As stated in my last blog post, there is a critical relationship between the B2B/B2C brand and employer brand strategies and the business strategy. The new layer discussed here emerges from the employer brand strategy. The overall paradigm can be visualized this way:

Employer Brand Universe

The B2B/B2C brand strategy is developed to actualize the business strategy—to actively shape audience perception about a product or service and company as a whole. The employer brand strategy works to deliver on the B2B/B2C brand promise and is necessarily tied to the overall business strategy. It, too, works to actively shape audience perceptions about the brand from an employer perspective. Brand resides over the entirety of the organization. It is far more encompassing than any individual product or service, advertising campaign, or any other element of brand identity (packaging, logo, brand line, etc.). These are simply extensions of the brand itself.

BRAND TRUTH: “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

— Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon

We see as well that employer branding consists of several channels of expression. Formal communications are a single aspect. What often speaks louder, however, are the operational aspects of a given organization. We intuitively understand that regardless of what is said, it is behavior which best represents what is believed. So from a strategic perspective, how does brand impact:

  • Culture
  • Programs/procedures
  • Systems
  • Structure

Some of this is organic, emanating naturally from the brand. It’s in the layering where misalignment can emerge. Let’s look at a very basic example to illustrate the concept. In many organizations, it is more common than not to promote top performers into managerial/leadership roles. However, several vital questions are rarely raised: “Is this person a capable people manager?” and/or “What kind of training will this person need to lead effectively?” As that person’s footprint expands and greater “brand weight” is assigned to her as a senior-level brand ambassador, the greater the problems when that person struggles.

You don’t need a long-running tenure as a Recruiter to compile stories of Hiring Managers who, even against their own best intentions, continually shipwreck the momentum of an organization that is looking to live into its best self. And what are the opportunity costs of moving a top performer out of a role in which she thrives into a role perhaps less suited for her? What might improve in rethinking how this promotional approach is handled?

There are seemingly limitless ways to audit an organization to determine where there are gaps between profession and practice. And all of this goes to brand; in fact, undertaking this kind of initiative would itself be a meaningful expression of the brand. This is what we mean by considering employer branding strategically, holistically: where does the organization stand, what is it building toward, and how do you best bring together the extraneous strands to weave a tighter cord? It’s a mindset, really. A lens through which you consider the living organism that is your organization.

Has your organization considered an audit of your structure, processes, and systems in light of your employer brand? If so, I’d love to hear how this has engendered meaningful change.