How Nine of the Best Global Leaders Engage Stakeholders in their Employer Brand Journeys
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As an EB and talent attraction strategist, I have facilitated many workshops with global leadership teams to share best practice for enabling the impact of EB within their business. It’s given me a unique insight into the perspectives of C-suite agendas and how to bring them to the EB table.
I would like to share with you what I have learned about the evolution of Employer Branding, before welcoming the incredible panel of EB leaders below to discuss their strategies for creating successful outcomes in an evolved EB world.
The term ‘Employer Branding’ was coined in the 1990s by Simon Barrow, chairman of People in Business, and Tim Ambler, Senior Fellow of London Business School. They defined the employer brand as
the package of functional, economic and psychological benefits provided by employment, and identified with the employing company.
Back then, in its crudest form, it was fulfilling a need. "We have a job, do you need a job?” For those of you who remember the early general news or newspaper ads, job searching was very much all about ‘a job is a job, do you fit the criteria?’. It wasn’t necessarily a career path, even if the job went on to last for 20 years. The benefits tended to be centred on a common sliding scale: location, salary, security and perks.
Then we entered the 2010s, and the emergence of smart technologies and social media moved the needle to desire. Suddenly there was a platform to talk about how brilliant an organisation was, and an employer brand manager’s job was focused on talent attraction - they made candidates consider all sorts of company perks they should be striving for, like free booze on a Friday night and ping pong championships in the office.
Ten years ago, that's what would attract people: free booze, ping pong tables, graffiti on the walls and a great view from the window of wonderful CBD offices. Post-Covid, it's almost comical that those things alone could get people to join an organisation.
And therein is really where we've had the biggest shift as we usher in the 2020s. Today, working in employer branding is about being an artist, about helping your organisation to create belief-driven connections with both their internal and external audiences.
It really is about the data now – in fact, we can see the huge shift we’ve undergone when we look at the information we’ve gathered about pre-pandemic attitudes versus post-pandemic.
I love the data from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. Pre-pandemic, their research tells us that customers and clients were considered lead contributors towards an organisation achieving long term success, whereas post-pandemic that power is with the employees - which we all knew, of course! As we look at that shift and we talk about the great resignation, the great reshuffle etc, we think, why? What's at the heart of this?
Well, 59 percent of respondents in recent studies say they want to work for a company that's a better fit for their values, whereas only 31 percent prioritise compensation or career advancement. Whilst this data is likely somewhat reflective of the time just prior to the pandemic, I still think we've seen the biggest exponential growth over the last two to three years. So what does that mean for us and the way we approach our roles in employer branding?
Essentially, it means we have to work more closely with our cross-functional partners to make sure we don’t break that trust. We need to make sure we are building a brand based on a foundation of positive values and culture-driven decisions.
Brands now are talking to the Four C’s - your customer, your candidate, your clients and your colleague - with every piece of communication. It’s make or break in overdrive. As employer managers and practitioners, we now have to build a sustainable brand that talks to everyone. You absolutely need a framework. You can't just have people doing whatever they want. You have to give them a framework or a guideline, though this one’s open to interpretation - I liken it to painting by numbers. You give them a framework and then you allow them to express what that looks like with individual nuances.
Employees that are aligned to the organisational value and culture are far more likely to drive business success.
If you don't have the right culture to underpin all of your strategies and initiatives, you are going to fall on your face. And as employer brand practitioners, you are ultimately responsible for being the custodian or the conductor of their experiences. And that's why it's not a solo job. It is a team sport, and you need to bring in people within the business to help you deliver.
So, with that, I would very much like to pass you on to the incredible Devin, because whilst this is an amazing theory, I know a lot of you would love to see it in practice!
Elle and I first started talking about the EB360 approach a few months ago, which was really timely as I had just started my role and was building the strategy for our approach. We had a similar view that employer branding is the connective tissue that helps set the path for who the company wants to become as an employer.
As a fully remote company, GitLab is very open with the way that we share information and our EB strategy follows suit. To communicate our EB strategy we built out a fully collaborative framework that we are happy to share with the EB community. We're all about sharing the things that we're doing as an organisation, and also learning from others to figure out where we can improve.
When you look at our strategy, we are not only talking about where we want to go as an employer and how we want to position GitLab as a great place to work. We're also weaving our talent brand vision into the way that we're thinking about people programs and into the way that we're communicating with people inside of the organisation. For this to work, the talent brand needs to be a platform that invites a lot of people within the organisation to take part. In our case, it means inviting other talent brand practitioners to take part as well. Our talent brand strategy starts with vision and talking through what our vision means to us and the different building blocks of it, and then how we're going to bring it to life. That's something that any of our 1500 team members can comment on at GitLab – I'm all ears.
We're very much still figuring out how all of these bits and pieces are going to come together, but are really excited about having this transparent foundation to build from. It's really helped us to create buy-in from marketing and our leadership team as we can show them the vision and how we can all work in the same direction.
At LinkedIn, we have some unique challenges as our product is very much part of our story from a talent brand standpoint. Given the nature of our product, I think it's an important proof point in terms of how the partnership between marketing, talent and communications looks and how we think about those dynamics. As Head of Talent Attraction, I see myself as an extension of the marketing and communications team and I partner with them often, sometimes more than the Talent Acquisition team. For us, I think it goes a little deeper than connecting the dots.
We are strategically aligning our roles and responsibilities for both clarity and accountability, between my team and the marketing communications team at LinkedIn. We did that because we felt like there weren't clear "rules of the road" as to how we approached talent brand and talent attraction which was creating some disparities in terms of our goals and the level of responsibility. As Devin rightly pointed out, it takes a lot to be able to build a culture that connects the dots. On top of that, when you layer in that we have candidates who make very complex decisions over a long period of time requiring multiple touchpoints, we do need to influence those candidates along that journey. Also, those candidates are typically LinkedIn members, and in some cases our clients as well. So, it's really important we work together with marketing and communications.
We've agreed with marketing communications that they are the owner of our talent brand - this is defined as how we share our brand story with existing and prospective talent to help them love, trust and feel like they belong at LinkedIn. They are treated as equal parts potential employees and prospects. Our role as the talent attraction team is the amplification of that talent brand story. We educate and inspire prospective talent to take action to apply, to want to be part of our recruiting process and to be part of our employee circle and team.
I'm sure you can appreciate that even with that lovely definition there are a lot of blurred lines. We don't always get it right. In many of the projects, sometimes it’s all hands on deck to work through what that means in practice. But we've really found that by doing it, we've been able to connect who we are as a company, our company brand and culture, to what we want to achieve from a talent attraction and talent acquisition standpoint in terms of candidate conversion.
At LinkedIn, we’ve been able to amplify our program and scale it up in a way that is quite unique in terms of amplifying the narrative, getting more rich content and making sure that there's full alignment. We’re able to bask in the halo of all the great work that the company brand marketing team does, as well as the work of our team and ourselves.
I lead the recruitment, marketing and EB function at Relativity, a 1500-strong employee company. We’re a software company that focuses on legal technology and finding data that is pertinent to legal cases and compliance issues.
We are in a hybrid work environment right now which is something that we learn from every day. I think it's also brought us together in terms of who we work with. When I first started in this EB role, I was a bit narrow-minded - I was learning the ropes in the context of always working with recruitment and talent acquisition because I sat in their function, or the marketing team. Although this is where a lot of the work might get done day to day, there is so much more beyond that that we’ve learned to tap into over the years.
One of my favourite partnerships has been working with our Engineering and Product Chief of Staff this past year. We worked with him to figure out their high priority roles and what they could help us with in terms of things like what job sets are their engineers looking at? What social media are they on? Can we build some personas together? They also went above and beyond in my opinion, and put together a list of all speaking engagements that they're interested in and didn't just ask us to find all this information, either. Then we came back with the advertising we could do and some of the stories we'd like to tell, and put it all together to make a good strategy for them.
There are so many things we want to do as EB professionals that we just can't get to everything all the time. Having the buy-in and support of the organisation allows you to reach a lot further, though we're not perfect at it yet. We still have a lot to do, but the relationships we've created and are fostering in the business are really helping us out.
To summarise it, I would say two words: “process harmonization”. At the end of the day, you need to find that middle ground. What are we all trying to accomplish? Once you have that, let's find that balance in how we can achieve it together. Employer branding, recruitment, marketing and branding, whatever you want to call it, it's delivering our brand at scale, and it's guiding key talent strategically to the right jobs. End of story. Working with the marketing team shows what value you can bring to the table and how you can contribute to the overall brand.
I like the Four C’s Elle mentioned - we're all going to help our clients but we're in this value driven generation. We're candidates. We're employees. We're clients. They all want to make work valuable for them or the product we are all selling and marketing. It's really important that you go back to talking about the fundamentals here and how we all work together.
Having said that, I've worked in different organisations where I only did marketing and then I did employer branding and then talent acquisition. I found a unique opportunity here at Boston Consulting Group as I actually have a dotted line into both marketing and talent acquisition. I report right into the COO of Marketing and to the Global Head of Talent Acquisition. That's the perfect balance and I would highly recommend it!
Since I started at Ritchie Bros. six years ago we have always had very strong mandates coming from the top down for the talent team choosing our direction. Gaining buy-in for employer branding from the business was something we struggled with initially, particularly around capturing content and the amount of work that goes into it.
Prior to joining, Phillip had no knowledge of employer branding. So, when he started I thought it would be amazing to expand his experience working with employer branding and seeing it really helping to bring our stories to life. Having employee experience on-side means the work is already happening and it is just a matter of busting silos to empower people. That's the key to being able to create those connections and innovate as we go, so we can move from mandate to movement to reel in employees.
As Thomas said, I'd never heard of employer branding before I came to Ritchie Bros. a year ago. In the past, my experience was I would partner with our communications department to deliver key corporate messaging in corporate-speak, which is pretty bland, right? What I've learned through partnering with Thomas and employer branding is that delivering messages from employees, by employees, to employees is very, very powerful. To add onto the four Cs of who we are delivering messages to - clients, candidates, colleagues and customers - I'm going to add a fifth C, and I think it's an important one: creating that connection and that's really what employer branding does.
My job at Ritchie Bros. is to elevate the employee experience beyond the basic needs like pay, benefits and company policies, by providing great recognition opportunities and room for growth and advancement. We do a lot of work with diversity, equity and inclusion in our employee resource groups, and we elevate the most by allowing people to share their stories and to be recognised. That's where employer branding comes in and why I think the partnership between employee experience and employer branding is so powerful.
I think it is interesting that everyone is experiencing exactly the same challenges and the same opportunities as well. I love the connection and I love working with different people outside of my day-to-day team.
One of the things I love so much about EB professionals is that they're Swiss Army Knives, they're able to do a little bit of everything. Most EB people are used to working in a team of one. Until I came into this role at Canva, that was me - I'd be doing a bit of social, building partnerships and really stretching my skills as a marketer while understanding recruitment and the challenges that are going on within the talent industry.
My future vision is to start building out the talent brand function at Canva in the same way that we would a marketing team. By getting someone who has deep skills in paid media, and a CRM specialist who understands the value of talent, communities and how to engage with those communities. I think it is a really exciting opportunity for employer brands to have specialists come into play in that space.
I led EB globally at EY for about 10 years and recently made a career change. I joined a very small executive search and talent advisory firm who are very focused on the marketing, communications and advertising industry. Through this role, I get an inside look into what CHROs are thinking, what they are responsible for from a metric standpoint, and what CMOs are responsible for from a metric standpoint as well. I've seen some very interesting developments and in all of the conversations that I've had over the past nine months, the number one priority is EB. This is our moment. This is your moment to shine.
These metrics are tying goals around diversity, inclusiveness and other elements of EVP to a broader business strategy. That last part is the really important part because so many times EB has been relegated to the side, like it's a recruiter or someone in HR and it's not properly resourced. It's a ‘nice-to-have’ because we need to be able to hire people to have a business. But success used to be defined on sales revenue, reputation, operating margins and there's a broader lens now – today success is defined in terms of values and culture, as markers of success on a corporate level.
This is the territory that EB owns so beautifully. It’s been known for a long time that EB can make or break candidate journeys through the hiring process. For the first time, there seems to be an awakening to link back to the brand and the metrics for which the CMO is responsible. That's a huge shift. CEOs also haven't been able to change things massively and globally, and they're all realising that they're behind the curve.
To give you a glimpse into this, I've taken a brief this week to fill a CMO role for a big fintech company with more than 10,000 employees. For the first time, they're adding EB to the remit as a strategic priority for this person. Historically, it was sidelined to someone in internal communications who sat in HR. Because they're moving it so that it is formally within that CMO's remit, this has the potential to change everything about how EB gets resourced, measured and delivered. EB will have a second advocate in the C-suite, alongside the CRHO, with recruits and employees being elevated to the level of customers from a marketing perspective. I hope this is a continuing trend because it means really good things for anybody who's practicing and passionate about this space.
I think the future of EB is changing and it's changing for the best. Everything's been laid out and everyone's talking about the phenomenon. The icing on the cake is that people are seeing the priority and the need from employee experience and marketing all the way through to the C-Suite, as Erin mentioned.
I'm seeing it myself - when you look at the job search results on Indeed and LinkedIn, there are significantly more EB specific titles appearing versus talent attraction specialists or roles that are combining employer brand elements. I love it.
I think the common theme of today is connections and partnership. This is a big shift for employer brand as I can say, honestly, three years ago there wasn't a partnership. We were fighting to hold our own. Now there's a partnership with different business functions, but it's not “Let’s see what you need and we’ll get that done”. It's “How can we work together?” and I think that's a growing trend.
It’s a journey bringing your business stakeholders to the EB table, and with each organisation you work for, you may be at a different stage. We have spent two decades getting to the point at which EB is finally on the agenda, but that doesn’t mean that leaders necessarily know what to do it quite yet!
That’s why we need to learn from each other. We need to share our experiences and be ready to educate and showcase the outcome. While I don’t say prove the ROI, I do say bring the data to the table and showcase your impact in increments.
Find your tribes that have the most to gain from the impact of EB and start there. You’ll soon have enough to have a full table.