Employer branding allows employees to send the message to the masses that your organization is place where others would want to work. According to the LinkedIn 2016 Global Talent Trends Report, the number one obstacle faced by people who recently changed jobs, was not knowing enough about what it was really like to work for a company. This is a great reason to have a strong employer brand for your recruiting efforts.
The branding message that employees in your company will share with their networks can either be an “expectation” (forced, external motivation > ineffective) or it can simply be part of a positively contagious culture (effective).
The first, and most difficult achievement is to actually have a workplace culture that’s worth bragging about. With workplace culture being such a hot term these days, let’s, for the sake of perspective, use the mindset that it’s a new term to us.
UNDERSTANDING HOW WORKPLACE CULTURE IS CREATED
The culture of a workplace is one that is lived with ease. It’s not forced, it changes every day with every new hire and every new experience. It starts with simple social norms that we pick up from others in the company. It grows organically as a result of events, reactions to those events, and feelings that result from those reactions. It then solidifies as the result of (1) positive or negative ruminating thoughts, and (2) positive or negative gossip.
The cycle continues from here as the thoughts and gossip create new or stronger sentiment, which results in new or stronger attitudes, behaviors, and events. Individual feelings and behaviors become collective feelings and behaviors, thus creating and changing the culture.
Well…this seems too easy, and at the same time so complicated. Easy because when we map it out, we can see the system. Complicated because
“How in the world are we supposed to create a consistent culture?”
CHOSE THE RIGHT FOCUS
What we can’t control:
Things that happen (events).
Others' thoughts and attitudes.
What we can control:
Our own behaviors.
Our own attitudes.
Our ability to lead effective conversations and change perspective and behavior.
What we can gently guide:
(What is meant by ‘gently guide’? Think of scuba divers gently guiding a shark away with their hands as it curiously bumps them.)
THE USUAL BARRIERS: TOO BUSY, HASTE, CHAOS, PERSPECTIVE
This is important, since there can be plenty of colleagues with the knee-jerk reactions of:
I don’t have the time.
We’ve always done it this way.
I’m the boss. I direct. People need to follow my direction or things will fall apart.
Nothing good comes from taking the time to really listen to others.
People get paid to do work, not to appreciate each other.
HOW DO WE CREATE A CONSISTENT CULTURE?
To get started:
1) Determine sustainable core values that you want your company culture to feed from.
2) Set goal that 60% of employees at EACH LEVEL live, practice, and display those values. Remember, these are behaviors, not attitudes.
Why 60%? The key here is not the 60%. Rather, the key is the “at each level”.
An all too familiar sentiment is: As we go further down the hierarchy ladder, those living the core values and fighting to create or hold on to a positive workplace culture become more numerous. Unfortunately, we’re fighting the against the negative culture harbored by those further at the top, the very ones who decided on our core values and tell us to live them. They aren’t positive culture drivers of their own.
There is great danger in holding onto this blanket sentiment. Not all ‘at the top’ shun their own core values. There are plenty who (1) drive a consistent positive culture, (2) want to do so but are afraid, and (3) have simply lost their way.
Positive corporate culture is contagious. It sets social norms. Having a social norm like ‘gossiping isn’t cool’ means that those who start to gossip are met with “Sounds like a tough situation. I better get to that meeting.” rather than feeding into the gossip. The lack of reinforcement teaches the ‘gossiper’ rather quickly that “If I’m a negative gossiper, I won’t fit in here”.
60% is significant for many reasons. Remember, we’re just looking for momentum to start.
MOMENTUM: GET TO 60% AT EACH HIERARCHICAL LEVEL
Schneider’s (1987) attraction-selection-attrition (ASA) model shows how a work environment shapes and grows through its employees. In a perfect world it will automatically weed out those who don't fit in (i.e. they contribute negatively and weigh down a thriving environment).
In this, we see new perspective. The common assumption has been that organizations shape the people and their behaviors, thus creating a work culture. The perspective of this model warrants a solid glance, as we better understand how the behaviors of people can make the organization, not the other way around, and create a place that attracts others with similar values.
This is a big positive for our purposes in employer branding. This means that putting up a good fight for a positive company culture and work environment worth bragging about can surely pay off.
The ASA model indicates that unless organizations consciously fight constriction, they will eventually give in to the natural gravity of toxic environments pulling down on them, and will eventually implode.
To fight this constriction and make use of the ASA model: Get to that 60% at all levels. Again, this is momentum.
Let's say for example that 50% (but not yet at each level) of your workforce are already living, practicing, and displaying your company's sustainable core values. Ideally, after momentum hits critical mass:
35% more will be converted to the behaviors and perspectives that are aligned with the company values and brand. These might be the ones who:
- Gave into the pressure of the healthy social norms.
- Have a new-found perspective and have bought into the core values.
- Realized they lost their identity and had simply become sucked into the toxicity and negative environment.
5% might leave or be let go as they are determined to not be a good fit, and replaced with those who are.
10% will quietly remain with the company, possibly miserable, as their negativity is not nurtured. They will keep their true sentiment hidden, and generally stop contributing to negativity.
This is a hypothetical, but we get the idea.
How Do We Use the ASA MODEL?
Let’s review the things we can control. The fight against constriction occurs in:
What we can control:
Our own behaviors.
Our own attitudes.
Our ability to lead effective conversations to change perspective and behavior.
What we can gently guide:
Schneider notes that “We have tried to change organizations by changing their structures and processes when it was the people that needed changing. With changes in people, the necessary changes in structure and process will occur.”
This gives credence to that fact that most workplaces have structured into their organization team building and recognition efforts, which fail miserably to live up to their intended purpose. Yes, team building is important and yes recognition is vital. However, many organizations go about it all wrong.
Recognition programs often equate to an infrequent feelgood moment, and mostly for the employer for checking that box.
The same is true with team building. These efforts are often misguided, as they search for the feelgood moments and get lost in the ‘fun trap’.
HOW TO SPEED UP THE EMPLOYER BRANDING PROCESS
Create or enhance avenues to:1. Develop and showcase social norms consistent with your core values and employer brand.
2. Allow others to see how they fit in and positively contribute to the social norms.
3. Remove constraints to existing motivations that employees have to use their passions, ambitions, and talents for the good of the organization.
Team Building as an Example
Team building can provide a great opportunity to de-stress and increase camaraderie. There is value in that. The opportunity for greater impact, however is often missed.
This impact and greatest value can be achieved when we change the goal of team-building from “let's have a good time and de-stress” to “let's re-engage and re-discover what we value in in each other.”
Turn Team Building into Team-Valuing
If there are disengaged employees, they’ll remain that way after standard team building. Disengaged employees likely feel that the talents and passions they brought to the company have been undervalued, ignored, and maybe even dismissed. However, team-valuing is a huge opportunity for even the most disgruntled employees to feel at the very least understood, and at best, valued and appreciated. This happens through the opportunity to discuss and showcase their natural talents and passions.
Four Tips for Lasting Impact, Rather Than Just Checking a Box
The great news is that a few simple tweaks will turn team building into team-valuing. So how do you get lasting impact and value from team-building?
First, take into account the very real differences with each person’s productivity and personality styles. Have people discuss a project or a vacation, and how they would go about planning, executing, and celebrating it. Discuss each other’s unique traits, preferences, and even quirks.
Next, provide the opportunity to interact with new people. Find ways to connect those who don't usually engage with each other. For those at any leadership level, engage with someone who would never expect it. This can be one of the most impactful experiences they'll have, and a memory they'll happily share with others.
Also, be careful of the “fun trap.” The fun ideas are great. But if the plan is only to check the box and have a good time, you’ll miss the opportunity to make a real difference. Create the main goal to have people feel individually valued and appreciated. Making the goal to value and appreciate others will pay off, big time.
Lastly, focus on the talents and passions of each other. Each person on your team is great at something, both at work and away from work. Find out what motivates them and really excites them. How? Just ask, "Hey, what are you really good at?" It's that easy.
Remember, people will either feel valued, or will simply shrug it off as a check-the-box experience. Help your team experience something that could be a complete game-changer for everyone. This is changing the people, not the structure of the organization.
Move from Recognition to Appreciation
Would you rather feel recognized or appreciated? Would you rather someone:
1) Recognize you for the fruits of your labor?
2) Fully understand and appreciate your personal drive and the special talents you used to complete a seemingly impossible task, which results in superiors and coworkers who truly know what you’re good at, and rely on you for challenges related to your talents and drive that are interesting to you?
Conley and Zigarmi (2019) say it perfectly, "Every day the spirits of millions of people die at the front door of their workplace."
When we think of this statement in the context of employer branding, that certainly isn't the type of workplace that potential candidates will freely choose to bring their own passions, ambitions, talents, and discretionary effort. It takes work to create this type of workplace, but then again, no false advertising allowed in your employer branding strategy. Make it a reality, then notify the masses.
When we talk about one's work passion, we must speak in parallel with one's sense of personal identity. This includes the fruitful bundle of talent, skill, creativity, innovation, and of course, discretionary effort.
Have these conversations about work passions with employees. Encourage and coach all of your managers to do the same. The bottom line is that you want employees to be able to make the following statements:
- My supervisor can describe what my greatest talents are.
- My coworkers can describe what my greatest talents are.
- My supervisor ties in my current job duties with my passions.
- My supervisor speaks of my greatest talents when discussing projects.
- My supervisor shares professional development avenues that tie in with my ambitions.
A healthy workplace culture includes both superiors and coworkers knowing and appreciating an employee’s work passions and talents. Teams that understand what each other are good at and proud of, are better able to utilize each other's strengths and reduce frustrations.
An entirely new daily work experience comes when those we work closely with, and our company overall, can identify, appreciate, and apply our work passions and talents.
When this happens, you gain employees who have a genuine reason and to spread the word about their company brand, and are more likely to reciprocate by actually doing so.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR OWN WELL-BEING?
If you’ve given solid effort and you’re not getting the support that you need to create a company culture worth bragging about, you’ll have to evaluate if that workplace is one where you are a fit.
Especially if your workplace environment is negatively affecting your personal life, the force of toxic gravity may simply be unmovable without having those in positions of power living the core values and providing the necessary support.
If you continue to give your all on employer branding efforts and are met with unmovable toxic forces, you’ll be weighed down with cognitive dissonance; You'll go against your own values and have inner conflict with your personal identity. Sounds pretty grim right? Not entirely.
You put forth the effort. You learned for yourself what you want in a company to give all your own passions, ambitions, talents, and discretionary effort. You adapted and maneuvered within your company politics. You learned how to influence others by helping them see what they have to gain vs. lose as a consequence of perspective and behavior. In the process, you came so close to that 60% at all levels. You learned what matters to people and at all organizational levels, and you know what internally drives people (both the good and the bad).
Now picture this: Its one year down the road. You work at a company where you’re a good fit, with a culture worth bragging about. You’ve realized, “Well, I guess every company is not like that.” You’ve made great strides for yourself, others, and the company with your thriving passions, ambitions, talents, and discretionary effort.
So, You've Decided to Stay. Now to The Action Steps.
We couldn't jump right into employer branding without actually having a company with a great work environment. Otherwise false advertising, right?
STEPS TO BUILD AND MARKET YOUR EMPLOYER BRAND THROUGH YOUR EMPLOYEES
1. Create a positive gossip-worthy company culture (Get to that 60%).
Get ideas on what your company culture is, versus what it can be. Your company is unique, therefore, involve people in your organization at all levels.
Identify employees who feel and live the appreciation for a strong foundational culture. Get them together and have them discuss their own passions, ambitions and talents.
Ask employees whom you would never think to ask. This means ask servers, foremen, dental hygienists, managers from other departments, marketing coordinators, grounds workers, security, IT analyst...whoever you wouldn't normally think to ask.
Get this cohort together and (a) discuss your company’s values, culture, and brand, (b) identify the external motivators to brag about (e.g. wages, retirement, perks, discounts, etc.), and (c) identify the internal motivators to brag about (autonomy, challenging and interesting work, feeling valued and appreciated, etc.)
2. Involve the cohort in the plan to get the message out to other employees, and eventually potential candidates.
A positive work environment will have employees playing a certain movie in their minds about their organization. That movie will have its own aura.
The goal of effective employer branding is to get those employees to show people outside of the company the same movie that they see playing in their own heads. This will help others to understand and feel the same way about the organization.
3. Provide appreciation coaching, workshops, team-valuing interactions/outings, and other culture-reinforcing opportunities.
4. Educate employees on social media use.
Provide coaching to employees who wish to promote your company's brand on social media.
5. Use employee passions, ambitions, and talents (PATs) as leverage for your employer branding strategy.
Let employees know that it is okay and encouraged to list their passions, ambitions, and talents in plain sight on their linked in profile. Coach and encourage them to share with their own network "These are my PATs and my company loves, feeds, and uses them."
The same LinkedIn report determined that one in four of your potential candidates will immediately view someone else's profile as soon as they find out about a job opening with your company. This means that candidates at all levels, from skilled and unskilled labor to executives, will get a feel of how their own PATs will thrive inside your organization. The implications with PATs are far reaching.
You have a great recruiting opportunity to attract others with your employer brand. Focusing on PAT's and removing the constraints that allow them to thrive can also increase your own retention numbers.
6. Make open positions more known to your employees.
What resources are you spending on recruiting efforts? What if your recruiting expenditures could be cut in half, realizing just how many potential candidates are just one or two degrees away from the vast network of your current employees?
7. ACTION ITEM - Fuel the Process
Send a simple, guiding, company-wide email that states:
We’re excited to have our employees search their networks to help us find a great candidate to join our company as [senior site engineer]. Do you have someone in mind?
Yes? Reach out to them!
1. Ask questions like:
“What kind of work environment suits you best?”
“What are you looking for in regards to having your work passions and talents appreciated?”
“What workplace values are important to you?”
“How do you want to feel during you your commute to and from work?”
“What kind of company culture do you try to create?”
2. If you see alignment with our company culture, then share your own experiences with them. Share how you fuel our corporate culture and how your work passions and talents are nurtured and appreciated here. This can get them excited to apply!
3. Next, ask them:
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how interested would you be in working with our company?”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how interested would you be in this open position?”
4. If you see a fit, provide them with the information to apply. Ask them when and how they will apply. This will help them vision out the first steps to take.
Thanks for helping us grow our culture and company!
[Director of Human Resources]
KEEPING YOUR CURRENT TALENT AND SECURING MORE
According to the LinkedIn 2016 Global Talent Trends Report, 90% of LinkedIn members are open and interested to new job opportunities. Well, that's almost everyone.
This means if you have a strong employer brand and your employees want to and know how to get that brand message out, most people within your employees’ vast network will clearly know that your company has a strong employer brand and see your company's positive aura.
The big ‘uh-oh’ here is that perhaps 90% of your own workforce is also open to new opportunities. The employer with the strongest and most genuine culture, brand, and message wins.
Conley, R., & Zigarmi, D. (2019). Producing a passion play: Stop obsessing over engagement; instead focus on employee work passion and creating a high-trust culture where workers flourish. Workforce, 2, 42.
Schneider, B. (1987). The people make the place. Personnel Psychology, 40(3), 437–453. https://doi-org.ezproxymso.helmlib.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.1987.tb00609.x