I was sitting in a talent conference in December last year when Bill Boormann, one of the world’s leading recruitment experts, dropped this bombshell, “Employer Branding is dead”.
Now, I run a website that essentially provides an Employer Branding solution, so I swallowed hard and felt my heart drop, which the entire room probably heard because everyone went dead silent. But then Bill went on then explain what he meant.
By “Employer Branding”, Bill was referring to the way most organisations are currently branding, through content they produce about themselves. He referred to this type of branding as “propoganda”, particularly when employers talk about their aspirations as though they’re reality.
Bill’s point was that this isn’t how the market works anymore, this isn’t what ‘consumers’ (or, in the context of employment, ‘job seekers’) want and while it’s only natural that we want to paint ourselves in the best possible light, this short-term gain can have a hugely negative (and expensive) long-term affect on culture and retention.
Culture Branding has replaced Employer Branding
According to Bill, research tells us that the number one thing job seekers want to see is a picture of where they might be working or the team they might be working with, followed closely by peer reviews / transparency. To provide this, he suggested focusing on “Culture Branding” – being open about what’s it really like to work at your company – rather than trying to carefully craft an image. Idealised imagery and ‘corporate speak’ just aren’t part of the equation anymore, it’s about being real.
But being real is about more than just branding yourself in the right way, this is ultimately about driving the best outcomes for the business. It’s about attracting the right kind of people for your unique culture and not trying to be all things to all people. When you do this, your culture wins which can improve productivity by up to 202%, and you’ll also improve retention – both obviously affect the bottom line.
Bill talked about a customer he’d worked with, who had banned their software developers from tweeting about still being at work at 10pm. Bill asked the CEO why and he said that they didn’t want to scare off other developers who might think they’d need to be working late. Bill then asked, “and do your developers work until 10pm on a regular basis?”. The CEO said, “yes, in fact most nights, that’s the culture.”
“So let me get this straight,” said Bill, “you want to encourage developers who don’t want to work late to apply so you can hire them to work in a role where they’ll be working late? And you probably want them to work late, right?”
The lightbulb went off and the CEO removed the Twitter ban.
Now some of you might say, “but we’re trying to drive cultural change and we need different people than we have today.”
Great, so talk about that upfront. If you’re trying to build a customer centric culture and you don’t have one today, don’t tell people, “we’re a customer centric culture.” Instead tell people that the vision of the business is to become the market leader in customer service, you’re going through some cultural change and you’re looking for people that will be influencers to drive that change.
But it’s also important not to hide from the realities of your business. Westpac, for example, has some great reviews on JobAdvisor but also some negative feedback. Invariably the negative feedback talks about “red tape”, “bureucracy” and how hard it is to get things done.
The team at Westpac recognise that this will never change in a company their size, it’s a reality. They want people to read those reviews and opt out of applying if that’s not what they’re looking for, it will save everyone a lot of time, effort and money.
So really what Bill was talking about is to focus on quality rather than quantity. Focus on attracting the right people, not all people, by telling it how it really is.