Eric Harris is the CEO of MindHandle, the employment branding agency in Dallas, TX.
Cultural shifts like we’ve witnessed in the macro employer/employee relationship don’t happen often. The permanent, worldwide disruption of the power dynamic was inevitable following market turbulence, the gig economy, the creator movement, the pandemic, a fumbled return-to-work paradigm, many instances of social unrest and much more over the past several years.
Still, a 2019 iHire report found that roughly 39% of respondents lack an employer branding strategy, and about 20% were “unsure of their branding efforts.” Yet, a 2015 survey found that 86% of U.S. women and 67% of U.S. men would not join a company that has a bad reputation. Nearly half of respondents said they would need a pay increase of at least 50% to switch to a company with a bad reputation.
If you’re looking at your organization and think you could stand to improve your employment brand, here’s how.
1. Take a company snapshot.
Start by answering some big questions: Who are you, what do you value and where do you want your company to go? The answers to questions like these breathe life into an employment brand and galvanize people around a common purpose and a central vision you don’t just talk about, but act on daily.
Talk to people within your organization—many of them. Talk to employees in a host of departments with varying seniority and tenure. Ask them what working there means to them and what it stands for. This is an excellent test to see where your employment brand currently stands and if anyone is listening. Then, see what your customers think about your brand and what it means to them. Listen open-mindedly, empathetically and deliberately, and look for patterns in the answers.
3. Roll up your sleeves and align.
Invite stakeholders to climb on board with the information gleaned in the listening phase. Welcome them into the creation of your employment brand. Get interactive and break traditional meeting formats with workshops, brainstorms, surveys and other forms of dialogue. Look for ways everyone can share their ideas.
4. Stir emotions with storytelling.
A story is wickedly powerful and infinitely shareable. When you’ve aligned the ingredients of your employment brand, bake them into a narrative that can be easily repeated through the halls of your organization. A great brand story will be most memorable if it’s told along familiar patterns and contains elements such as tension, conflict and victory. Most importantly, keep in mind your brand is not the hero in your story; your employees are. When they feel empowered to achieve victory, everyone wins.
5. Define the journey.
An employee journey map will give you important insights into the experience of working at your company. The map is drawn by how an employee feels during various procedures or interactions at work. Once outlined, this is an informative tool that can identify strengths and inefficiencies, as well as how improved communications can remove friction.
You might uncover valuable steps in the employee journey you thought were happening but aren’t. For example, many organizations recognize an “information drought” at the manager level. This means important communications aren’t reaching employees because their managers are either too busy or aren’t capable of sharing it with their teams the way leaders expect them to.
When your journey map is complete, you’ll have a great snapshot of where you need to focus communications to improve the experience for the people on your team.
6. Mold and shape.
Now, it’s time to set the creative team loose on creating the materials that bring the story to life. You’ve identified the channels and tactics for them to create strong, emotional messages, and you’ve equipped them with a storyline they can turn to for language and feelings. A talented creative team of designers and copywriters will turn these inputs into a campaign of elements that inform, inspire and show your employees the way to finding their best selves at work.
7. Shout your message.
Now is the fun part: You get to share your message with everyone. Do not do this only once or a couple of times; continue to reinforce your employment brand messaging consistently and persistently. Communicate these new messages in town hall meetings, thread them into internal communications, and program them into employee interactions such as benefits guides, onboarding sequences and more.
Consider how you’re equipping employees themselves to be the media for these messages. That might include testimonial videos, employee spotlight articles on the intranet and more.
8. Listen again.
Your new campaign is live. Your employees are engaging with your employment brand, your customers are interacting with your employees, and it’s your turn to listen again for any adjustments. Does the brand need to adapt to different contexts, such as macroeconomic changes, new leadership or new strategic plans?
Measure your engagement frequently. Changes and adaptations are only natural, but be mindful to stay true to the core of the vision and values you defined early on.
Please don’t actually pinch anyone. But sometimes communication can get stuck or disordered. Mistakes happen, and sometimes well-meaning communications can be misunderstood or perceived as off-center. This is not a cause for panic. It’s an opportunity to gently nudge communication back into place.
10. Be patient.
Employment branding isn’t a sprint. It’s a series of steps that build on small decisions and perseverance when things get messy. Employment branding is “soil work,” which means it takes time to see the fruits of your labor, but the results are beautiful. To alleviate the slog sensation, look for opportunities to celebrate wins and recognize people’s contributions publicly.
Step back and look at what you’ve built.
Employment branding is more than the logo on your paychecks. While those have value, a brand is a set of beliefs, alive in the heads, hearts and hands of your employees. About 70% of people derive a sense of purpose from their occupation. A strong brand, consistently communicated, will provide language, beliefs and actions that inspire and empower your employees as they define themselves.