Why the Employer Brand is the Most Important Brand of All
Who would you rather work for?
- United Airlines or Southwest Airlines?
- Google or Yahoo?
- Vons/Safeway or Trader Joe’s?
Odds are high that you have identified the better employer with each example simply through word-of-mouth or direct customer experience. Or, you might be seriously interested in working for one of these organizations and have read employee feedback at Glass Door and Indeed.
The war for talent is back but it bears little resemblance to the war employers were having just 12 years ago. According to Gallup’s latest global engagement survey, only 13% of the world’s workers are engaged. Today’s costliest and yet game-changing segment to recruit is the engaged worker. You know them. They are the ones who are awake, present, interested, actively learning, and able to change with the times.
Successfully reaching them requires a new mindset, especially around the weight and importance we give to brands.
- Consumer brands determine what we promise to our customers.
- Employer brands define what we become.
Here’s the rub. if we skimp on the second, the consumer brand becomes a lie.
True employer brands are not sanitized pitches. The best capture the very essence of a unique tribe with its mission, rituals, with expectations so clear that it is easy to define whether someone is a fit or not.
Here are a couple of examples:
During a leadership program at The Walt Disney Company, someone asked me to describe what I thought the company’s employer brand might be. I responded, “To produce magic at great profit in the midst of chaos.”
Disney has given far more thought to this topic. However, I have observed that if someone loves making magic at great profit in the midst of chaos at Disney, they will be there for decades. When someone isn’t cut out for that tribe, they will exit quickly and possibly become part of the naysayers towards the Disney culture. In any culture, there will be hires that don’t fit. A great employer brand helps identify that mistake quickly.
Make no mistake. The CEO must be in charge of the culture. All too many CEOs walk down the hall to human resources and tell the CHRO to, “fix the engagement problem” or “redefine the culture.” It does not work! Human resources executives tell people they are fixing the culture. Immediately, the tribe looks to the CEO and witnesses business as usual. They take an employer survey. All this accomplishes is to make the managers feel even more inadequate. Managers are sent to retreat centers. They come back enthused and the employees think, “So what.” Then, they start over.
I have a wide variety of individual clients who are human capital executives. Some are launching their own businesses, others are working towards stronger performance, and many are looking for new roles. I tell all of them, “If the CEO isn’t leading the culture, keep your bags packed.”
When a CEO leads the employer brand, we remove confusion from the tribe. In cultures that are led by a visionary and balanced CEO, the results can be spectacular.
The average tenure of a Trader Joe’s cashier is 18 years. The company boasts some of the most enviable customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and profit figures in the industry. The late and great founder Joe Coulombe established a culture of democracy and equality. Successors uphold that culture. Dan Bane, the company’s current CEO continues to visit stores and actually take action on feedback. Recently, I asked a cashier of 26 years why she is so loyal to the company.
“It’s like this. A couple of weeks ago, I was the second person in the door. The General Manager had arrived early. He was in the bathrooms scrubbing floors and taking out the trash. She didn’t come over and ask me to step in. No one pulls rank here. I have always felt respected. I have always looked forward to coming to work.”
Today’s strongest employer brands are built on:
Technology has produced a revolution in transparency. It is no longer enough to make up a story to recruit people when it isn’t true and the company either doesn’t or can’t live up to the brand. Glass Door and many other platforms pulled the covers off employers. Today, a savvy candidate can learn more about a hiring manager than many direct reports.
Don’t make things up! Build a strong employer brand that is based on the truth. If the truth isn’t so hot, fix your culture. The Transparency Revolution has impacted our culture with such force, most organizations are only beginning to come to terms with the fact that we can no longer hide anything.
Consider how transparency is impacting wrongdoing in organizations that paid off victims of sexual assault. Many of them have become cultures where the most skilled and self-confident talent won’t even consider working there. Because, everyone is a journalist and everyone has access. Candidates can find out whether your culture is a dead end, a place to launch a new career, an environment that is fair, a place where realizing potential is greeted with career growth. Many will know if the green initiative is the real deal or just lip service. They will go onto social networking sites and gather information about virtually everyone working in a department.
Don’t like this development? It doesn’t matter. Whatever your employer brand is, it ought to hold up to all scrutiny. In other words, it is far easier to live with nothing to hide.
I’m not suggesting what most people are thinking.
In the 70s, American business was seduced into an ideology that made shareholders the king of business. The new model actually led to CEOs becoming softer rather than stronger. They no longer had to give equal attention to customers and employees. With businesses viewed as commodities, the organization began factoring in how much irritation a customer would absorb in return for low prices. Employees became assets during good times and liabilities the moment there was a downturn.
We have paid dearly for that blind turn. If we want optimum performance in all settings, we have to respect all segments of the business. Strong employer brands give customers, shareholders and employees equal importance.
We need more CEOs who apply this kind of vigor to their own roles.
A Defined Tribe
The CEO or owner must define the tribe because any other attempts will become corrupt with differences and turf.
Virtually every great employer brand contained in this article produces images of the type of people who work there and what it feels like to be there. The brand tells a story so clearly that the morals, values, ethics are clear. The contract between employee and customer is effortlessly envisioned. For example, if you have ever had to call Apple for service, you have probably encountered someone who is accountable, personable, interested, and committed to solving your problem. Try that with a big box cable company. Many of us would view Apple as an abusive environment simpy as an extension of Steve Jobs personality. But, Jobs expected the same performance standards that he practiced on a personal level. Warts and all, he wasn’t one of those CEOs who promised the masses perfection without the necessary action to fulfill that vision.
In an era where morality is becoming more precious every day, an employer brand states clearly, how it handles issues of gender equality, diversity, solving its internal problems, and how it responds to crisis.
A great employer brand defines how to build strong relationships with other workers, which becomes the glue, it seems, within our best employer brands.
There is much more about employer branding and the CEO’s role in building a culture in my latest book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press).
In the interim, I welcome your comments.