Transforming culture with employer branding

In the final article of a four-part series, Brett Minchington, chairman and CEO of Employer Brand International, teams up with Neil Harrison, head of employer branding and insight at TMP UK, to discuss the challenges of transforming organisational culture through employer branding strategies and highlight key focus areas to further your success.

The “Holy Grail” of employer branding is the ability for leaders to transform the company’s culture to align with the identity, image and perception that they want stakeholders to have about their organisation as an employer of choice.

Challenges of implementation

Some of the most common challenges and excuses we hear from leaders, when the employer brand strategy has little or no impact on transforming culture, usually begin with: “Perfect! We’ve just developed our new employer brand strategy.”

However, this is usually succeeded by one of the following caveats:

1. “We only use it to inform our recruitment activities, it doesn’t have much of a role internally.”

2. “It was created by the headquarters team. It’s not flexible enough for our markets and no one has reached out and communicated on how to implement it.”

3. “It’s really just about communications anyway, it isn’t embedded in development, performance management or recognition activities.”

4. “Senior leadership aren’t really endorsing or supporting it, so traction is slow.”

5. “No thought has gone into measuring its success – we think its impact might be transforming the culture but it’s hard to say for sure.”

6. “It seems to be based on outdated perceptions – we’ve moved on so much in the last two years and it doesn’t really reflect what’s happening now.”

7. “It’s hard to transform the culture via line managers if they are the ones who embody the culture we want to transform.”

8. “We played no part in its creation and therefore we don’t have much enthusiasm for it.”

9. “I’m not really sure how I should be promoting and selling it to line managers.”

10. “The cultural challenges faced in Europe, where the employer brand strategy originated from, differ hugely from our own cultural challenges.”

Employer brand and culture

There is a synergistic relationship between employer brand and culture. The latter should play a key role by informing the employer brand, while the former needs to promote and embed the cultural nuances that make an organisation and its employment experience distinctive and memorable.

An employer brand has to be an authentic indicator of the cultural truths of an organisation. These truths will inevitably be appealing for some candidates and less attractive to others.

What makes a candidate to want to work at Goldman Sachs may not necessarily be the same cultural DNA driving candidates to apply at other corporate success stories such as Virgin, Sodexo, Apple and Zappos.

These trusted brands have worked hard to identify the core cultural markers that have made them successful and use this to drive performance and difference. They are brave enough not to try and homogenise their culture. They realise that some candidates will not be attracted by how their employer branding initiatives communicate their culture; instead they focus on strategies to reach their target audience to endorse and confirm the reasons why they want to work for them. The top brands don’t need more candidates to apply; they strive for a higher volume of quality candidates.

Key focus areas

Transforming culture takes time. While there are many variables such as company size, structure, industry and company lifecycle, a clearly defined strategy that is supported by senior managers and the appropriate resources are key determinants of success in transforming organisational culture. If the approach by companies such as Amazon, Vestas, Deutsche Bank and Deloitte is anything to go by, the days of the employer brand strategy driven by teams of only one are coming to an end.

To improve your chances of success:

1. Involve key stakeholders at the beginning of the research and development phase and ensure they are kept informed throughout the implementation.

2. Establish an employer brand team or council to monitor the performance of the strategy across the business lines and geographic regions.

3. Establish clear guidelines for leaders who are accountable for the implementation, measures and reporting on the strategy.

4. Raise the profile of employer branding throughout the organisation by raising awareness of the benefits amongst the senior leadership team.

5. Integrate the employer brand strategy with the normal business planning cycle.

6. Ensure that the head of employer branding has a voice at the executive table.

Be clear about the objectives you want delivered through your employer brand strategy. Understand what success looks like and keep your leaders focused on the journey.

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