What is Your Employer Brand Saying Behind Your Back?

May 23, 2013 Darcy Jacobsen

Building an employer brand is a little like raising a kid. You do the best you can to raise them right, and to instill them with values and substance. You nurture them, and you develop them. And then you send them out into the world and hope they represent you well when you’re not around.

Only here’s the secret. Like with kids, there’s only so much you can do to influence an employee brand once it is out in the world. It’s true. In a very real way, (and parents of teenagers will appreciate this) an employee brand has a mind of its own. Why? Because, at its core, an employer brand is—and should be—a reflection of your company culture. The culture is the thing you need to look at most closely. According to the Harvard Business Review, culture:

…guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.”

All the same, employer brands can’t be ignored. Different from a marketing brand, an employer brand is the impression candidates have of your company and what it might be like to work for you. They have become a critical differentiating tool for attracting candidates. In fact, according to a recent Monster/Unum study of job seekers, culture trumps all.  A full 87 percent of employees said they want a company that they believe “truly cares about the well-being of its employees.”  Only 66 percent of respondents rated a high base salary as very important.

This is why creating a great culture, and a great employer brand as a reflection of that culture, matters so much. It lets you put your best foot forward, and attracts the best candidates to your company.

Here’s a five step plan for doing everything you can to help your employment brand (and your culture) succeed:

  1. Knowledge is Power
    The first step to a great employment brand is all about honesty and self-awareness.  You need to understand the culture you already have and where you are strongest.  Conduct surveys and studies of employees and prospective candidates to make sure you’ve got a clear idea of who you really are and how your brand is perceived. Then you’ll know how to make sure your brand is the best reflection of your culture, and you can tweak where you need it.
  2. Nurture Your Culture
    This is probably the most important thing on this list. You need to create a culture people will want to be part of. If your surveys reveal problems, address them. Whatever your individual workplace style, there are certain universal qualities that every culture should aspire to:
    • Create a culture that practices its values
    • Create a culture of appreciation and gratitude
    • Create a culture that is functional and communicative
  3. Play to Your Strengths
    Once you have a clear idea of what your culture really looks like and a sense of who you are, you can fit your recruitment strategy to fit. Fun, relaxed cultures can post fun, relaxed job descriptions. Serious, fast-paced and ambitious firms can do likewise. Be sure that all of your internal  interviewers are good ambassadors for your culture and understand it. Be sure that external recruiters also have a thorough understanding of that culture. There’s no point in attracting boatloads of candidates who are the wrong culture fit. Tony Hseih will fire new hires who don’t fit–make sure it never gets that far by establishing a clear brand from the start.
  4. Let Your Culture Speak for Itself
    McDonalds is in the middle of a successful renovation of its employee brand. The fast food giant has no problems attracting people to buy its food, but candidates are another story. In fact, when McDonalds surveyed consumers: “only 30 percent to 40 percent of respondents viewed the perceived work environment positively.” This is perhaps understandable for the company that spawned the term “McJob”—a synonym for “a low-paying, low-prestige dead end job.”  But here’s the thing…  McDonalds employees do not share this view of their company.  “When McDonald’s asked its employees if they were satisfied with the rewards in the job, 80 percent gave a positive response.” McDonald’s brand revitalization uses those happy employees as their voice, to get the word out to candidates about what a great place it is to work. In this way they are reclaiming the “McJob” tag and making it work for them.
  5. Keep Walking the Walk
    Engagement brands must be maintained.  Monitor employee engagement and happiness. Measure and manage your culture. And stay aware of your presence on sites like Glassdoor, which are a front line indicator of your brand. Ensure that the creation of a strong culture and a strong employment brand is an ongoing effort that is ingrained into how you do business.
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