Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
23 Jul 2015

Future Talent Workshop: Employer Brand

23 Jul 2015 • by Changeboard Team

What makes a great employer brand?


In today’s world of work, everything is moving so fast – and we’ve all got so much to do – it’s hard to keep up, get ahead, to even find the time to think about the really big picture stuff.

I started my working life in 1997 – and, in so many ways, that world is unrecognisable from the one I inhabit today. So, what’s the story of work in 2015? What will it be in 2020?

We are all broadcasters

One of the biggest differences, of course, is that we’re living in a more transparent world. In fact, it’s a world where it’s nearly impossible to hide. Organisations used to be mysterious micro-worlds hidden behind glass and steel: now, to attract, to engage, to compete, we’ve all become broadcasters.

Just as scientists are unlocking the mysteries of the human genome, organisational DNA is also being unlocked for the world to see. And that’s the thing about employer branding in 2015 – just as organisations are all broadcasters now, we’re all brand savvy, authenticity-seeking researchers.

Creating real meaning and purpose for your talent

Just telling the world that people are your greatest asset doesn’t cut it anymore – you’ve got to show the world you mean it. And that’s not just about looking good, looking attractive, sounding exciting: creating environments where talent thrives is a commercial imperative.

You can sweat your assets into exhaustion, or you can find ways to sweat them that get the feel good hormones flowing too; that get them fitter and make them champions.

We all want to be productive people. We all want meaning in our lives. If you were lucky enough to see Alain de Botton at the Changeboard conference in April, you may remember him talking about what complex, damaged machines we all are. But he also reminded us that however advanced our technological age becomes, we’re still the same basic biological beings with the same fundamental human needs as we’ve always had.

We need purpose. Community. A sense of belonging. Belief systems. Clarity on what’s good and what’s not. And we all need to make a living.

And, in our ever-changing world full of people hard-wired to be resistant to change, we need help from our employers to understand, adapt to and embrace the ever-changing. Those that show how they can help, do help, and will help, are those with winning employer brands – and, it’s no coincidence, they’re the most successful and sustainable businesses too.

The DNA of employer brand – Changeboard & SMRS event

Getting a handle on your universal story – your culture, your organisational DNA, your offer – is a challenge for all organisations today. And being able to communicate this well means making some significant strategic, cultural, operational and commercial decisions.

Earlier this month we held a future talent workshop on the subject of employer brand, to ask the big questions and explore what a great employer brand might look like in the future.

Where does employer brand sit within an HR function?

How can you ensure your focus on employer brand drives meaningful, systematic change within your organisation? Tom Crawford, MD at The Brain Miner, shares his insight and reveals where he thinks employer brand sits within an HR function.

Understanding and implementing employer branding

In some ways it amazes me that people are still talking about employer brand. Perhaps it is only in my head that those words are attached to external marketing efforts, rather than meaningful and systemic change.

It also amazes me that I’ve been talking about this subject for almost twenty years. In that time I’ve seen many employer brand exercises start off very well in the recruitment arena, and then run out of steam when it comes to actually getting the organisation to change in a positive way in order to evidence the proposition.

It all gets a bit thorny when you say: “Right, so what behaviours, culture and experience are you going to drive for in order to make this a reality?”

When is that ever going to change?

Where does employer brand sit within an HR function?

Interestingly, in the same week as the recent Changeboard and SMRS event, I had lunch with an old colleague who is now a global HRD. He asked me outright where I saw employer brand, EVPs and values sitting within an HR function, and collectively we decided it should sit with organisational development and learning and development, as they could drive the necessary behavioural change. Why? Because, as we’ve been saying for 20 years, “people join a brand and leave a manager”.

Controversial perhaps, but then I also passionately believe internal communications should sit with organisational development / learning and development because in a world that has moved from broadcast to dialogue, the business leader and the organisational culture are more important channels than the intranet.

Whats your purpose?

Is identifying your organisation’s purpose key to strengthening your employer brand? Stuart Woollard, managing partner at OMS LLP & co-founder at The Maturity Institute, explains, and gives advice on how to add value to your brand.

How important is an employer brand to value creation? For many, it is critically important and, for some, it’s a stated strategic objective. But becoming a recognised employer of choice is only one part of the human capital value chain. For example, a much bigger value question is what you do to manage value from your human capital once you have attracted and retained the talent you want.

Perhaps the most important factor which influences employer brand is the organisation’s value motive. Or put simply, its purpose.

Identifying your organisation’s value motive

Why does an organisation exist? For example, does it see its primary purpose to maximise profits for shareholders or to provide products and services for the benefit of society?

Different underlying purposes have a profound impact on value and risk through a company’s human capital. The actual purpose of a company also has a significant impact on its employer brand – either supporting what the company says about who it is; or undermining it if a firm purports to be something it’s not.

Purpose creates value

Our view is that those firms who have a true societal purpose create value for all stakeholders and actually deliver greater financial returns over the long term to serve the needs of shareholders too. Such firms also have a very strong employer brand; for example, people see that working for them provides greater meaning and purpose for them individually.

This message is also starting to be understood by key stakeholders – investors, investment managers, senior executives and also the HR community. For HR, if purpose is so important, what should they do, if anything? Can HR really have any influence on organisational purpose?

We would say yes, if you have the appetite and desire. Our starting point is here:

  • Identify how human capital value and risk arises within your own organisational context. We use a research tested whole system approach: the 10 Pillar maturity framework.
  • Work out the business value (or risk) impact of where the biggest improvements can be made – this involves using some numbers but isn’t as hard as you might think.

By this stage, in case it hasn’t happened yet, you’re now ready to start the conversation with senior leadership, together with some highly compelling evidence. This may not even mention your firm’s purpose but what you will find is that any conversation about how to truly generate sustained value from people is one that simply cannot ignore it.

The key fundamentals for a strong employer brand

Getting your message right and articulating this authentically are key elements of employer branding, according to Kevin Hough, group head of resourcing at LV=. Here, he sums up his thoughts following our future talent workshop.

When considering employer brand from an holistic perspective, reflecting on what we do here at LV= and looking at what other organisations are doing, there are a number of things that I personally consider that make a great employer brand.

Employer brand must be articulated really effectively and get its message across. I often talk about an employer brand being what people say about you when you’re not in the room; but equally it’s important to have an employer brand that says something about you – what makes you different that would get candidates’ attention?  It’s not just the look and the feel of the website and the artwork on any attraction advertising, but the key messages and who is saying them.

Authenticity is key. Your brand must reflect who you really are. It’s no good selling an innovative, forward thinking organisation when that’s not the case. We use social media to get across a really honest view of what it’s like to work at LV= and bring our culture to life. Sometimes it’s great to let your people be free on social media so the whole organisation becomes are ambassadors for the brand. It’s more powerful to hear about a real experience from someone who has lived and breathed it, than a shiny corporate video with no authenticity behind it.

A clever employer brand can speak to a diverse audience. Can your brand attract a range of candidates for different roles? We really try to do this – while the volume of our recruitment is customer service representatives, equally we have very demanding needs for more senior and niche roles. For example, people sometimes think that you need to have experience to work in financial services – and often, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Most importantly, you don’t need an employer branding department or a huge budget for it – there is much you can do to drive the employer branding forward.  The biggest mistake people make (and I have done in the past) is to take employer brand off the agenda – it’s not a project that you need to complete every few years – it’s one that should be on your mind all of the time.

Watch the full speaker presentations from the day, below:

Tom Crawford, MD, The Brain Miner

Stuart Woollard, managing partner, OMS LLP & co-founder, The Maturity Institute

Kevin Hough, head of resourcing, LV=

Changeboard and SMRS will run a second Future Talent Workshop in October 2015. Stay up-to-date by following our Twitter: @Changeboard, and liking our Facebook and LinkedIn pages: Changeboard.