“Why?” A revolutionary question.

Recently I was asked to speak at a Employer Branding conference in Copenhagen. So what is Employer Branding, and what is my take on it?

The basic idea is that companies are competing for top talents, and therefore organizations need to brand them selves to existing employees and future candidates. The concept has spread across industries and sectors and is widely discussed and applied, along the pattern of many other “management fads”, refered to as institutional isomorphism by Dimaggio and Powell.

From a traditional marketing point of view, actitivites include analysing the employer brand, identifying the brand identity,  developing an overal Employer Value Proposition and communication plans to get the message across

A hidden assumption here is that organizations can choose how they want to appear in the eye of the candidates. But is that really possible these days? With social media and an increasingly networked workforce, the transparence of any organization is high.

There is no “quick fix” towards a strong employer brand, because in the real world, employer brands are formed through informal viral communication, or put in another way “word of mouth”.

As any marketing professional should know, “word of mouth” is the most powerfull kind of marketing that one can wish for – but can also have significant downsides if the organization is dysfunctional in one way or the other. Personal recommendations are key – not only in terms of products and services – but even more so when it comes to careers

Therefore, in my opinion, a good employer brand needs to be built up around employees own stories about what makes them motivated, what makes an organization a great place to work.

But what if these stories are not compelling? What if they are just ordinary tales without enthusiasm? Or even worse – what if the stories tell a tale of a dysfunctional, bureaucratic system, poor leadership etc?

Having a good and authentic story to tell is more important than ever these days, as people are increasingly buying products and services – not only based on there features, price, quality etc – but because of the associated values.

“Selling” your company based solely on the financial benefits and associated career opportunities, is certainly not a sustainable approach to employer branding, mainly because it includes only individual motivation – and also because it may not be durable during times of recession.

Therefore, effecient employer branding campaigns rely on the ability of the organization to provide a higher meaning – a general sense of purpose.

We live in what we believe is the peak of human civilisation, and yet very few can answer the question “why are we here”. As noted by Simon Sinek, facilitating organization wide reflection on the higher purpose of your company might be one of the most important thing you can do as a leader. As an example, Apples famous slogan “Think Different” encapsulates everything this company has been doing over the last decade, and has contributed to an incredible consumer brand as well as one of the strongest employer brands out there.

But even Apple has its counter stories. Steve Jobs – RIP – was also famous for his temper. Counterstories are not necessary a bad thing, if addressed properly, they can strengthen the sense of purpose as part of an ongoing process of learning and exploration and direction towards a higher meaning.

To summarise, a best practice approach to Employer Branding should include:

  • Identifying the “why” of the organisation
  • Involve the employees in interpreting “the why” in relation to their own work
  • Ensure to remove any barriers to executing on “the why”
  • Use authentic employee generated stories in the employer branding effort
  • Use social media to share these stories
  • Be prepared for counterstories and take full responsibility for addressing issues
  • Organization cultures are not static – need to reemphasise the meaning and purpose of the organization on an ongoing basis

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