Attract the best talent by building your culture and brand

| January 29, 2018
Organisations are ever more aware of the importance of both corporate culture and employer brand as a means to attract, retain, engage and empower ‘the right’ talent in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Not only can a strong culture and employer brand attract the right candidates and so boost productivity, they reduce recruitment costs, staff turnover and the resultant loss of intellectual property. A strong employer brand and culture also ensures a more consistent consumer experience, strengthens the reputation of the firm and boosts its bottom line.
While the two concepts are inevitably connected to people recruitment and retention, companies are unsure which one they should be focussing on and how they go about it, so lets begin by defining our terms before working on ways to improve them.
Founding principles
Most businesses are more familiar with the idea of corporate culture, as managers of the 80’s and 90’s realised the importance of the human element in the successful implementation of corporate strategy and that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.
Whilst employer branding is a more recent term, its owes its roots to nearly 70 years’ of brand building by firms to differentiate their products from similar goods and services offered by their competitors.
When it comes to recruitment, your employee value proposition is what you do differently from your competitors in ways that are relevant and compelling to your target employees.
Your culture is how you do it, that is how your behaviours translate your values into action, while your mission describes why you do it to tie the two ideas together.
Your employer brand wraps all of these up and includes a number of experiential and strategic elements such as people policies and practices, recruitment, training and communications.
Employer brand
In his book ‘Employer Brand Leadership’, Brett Minchington defines employer brand as ‘the image of your organisation as a ‘great place to work’ in the mind of current employees and key stakeholders in the external market – active and passive candidates, clients, customers and other key stakeholders.’
As with corporate and customer brands, this image combines both perceptions and experiences and any gap between promise and performance is remembered in every single consumer experience.
Successful organisations align their employer brand and experience with customer and corporate brand and experience to boost their performance over their rivals by up to 240%.
Most organisations will have an employer brand idea or rally-call that sums up the promise they make to their employees. This should align with their customer and corporate brands and sit at the heart of the brand to drive everything their people say and do.
For example, American car giant Ford promises its customers, employees and key stakeholders that ‘they will go further’. ‘At Ford, we go further to make our cars better, our employees happier and our planet a better place to be.’ Ford aims to deliver this lofty aim across their customer, employer and corporate brands, communications and experiences in a strong and consistent way.
Nike‘s ‘just do it’ is the unified brand idea for its employer, customer and corporate brands while for Zappos ‘delivering happiness’ is the core idea that drives its employer, customer and corporate brand.
What makes up the employer brand?
Brett Minchington offers a model of the employer brand that includes:
– An employee value proposition that unites employee segments while differentiating it from its competition.
– An employee platform encompassing the worker’s full experience at the firm, from recruitment and induction and the work environment to compensation and benefits, career development, communication, research, rewards and recognition.
– A strategic platform which involves people management policies and practices and performance measurement as well as the firm’s mission, vision and values. This will also include corporate innovation, reputation and social responsibility as well as culture and leadership.
In an organisation with aligned corporate, customer and employer brands, its mission, vision and values would sit at the heart of its operations while corporate reputation and social responsibility, culture and leadership would likely sit across corporate and employer brands.
Culture is part of the employer brand.
The Business Dictionary describes organisational culture as: ‘The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization’ .  Herb Kellener, the co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines put it more pithily as ‘what people do when you’re not looking.’
In ‘Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures’, Don Rheem argues that culture is ‘the felt experience of the people within the organisation… the way people feel determines how they behave’.
However it is defined, culture is values in action. Your company’s culture is defined by the sum of employees’ attitudes and behaviours that are experienced by employees as well as customers and key stakeholders.
To return to our corporate exemplars, Ford defines their culture and values in terms of four core values:
F: Foster Functional and Technical Excellence
O: Own Working Together
R: Role Model Ford Values
D: Deliver Results
Nike claims it ‘fosters a culture of invention. We create products services and experiences for today’s athlete while solving problems for the next generation.’ It offers 11 maxims to both describe and shape its culture, from seeing itself as both an innovative company and brand, to learning quickly and meeting customer demands in an agile, socially responsible but proactive manner.
Zappos describes their culture and values in similar terms, aiming to ‘deliver wow’ through good service, embracing and delivering change and being adventurous, creative and open minded. Its ten tenets also include team building, a positive attitude, doing more with less and remaining humble but determined.
The key to developing a strong culture therefore involves developing a handful of distinctive value statements and translating them into behaviours which can be remembered and implemented consistently.
While every employee must buy into the corporate culture for it to work, leadership has a key role to play in setting a positive example and guiding desirable behaviours. Nike, for example, has developed a ‘Manager Manifesto‘ which offers ‘a set of core principles that describe how its managers should lead with excellence… to lead, coach, drive and inspire.’
So where to start?
Building a strong culture in a smaller Australian firm is an iterative process, depending on where the firm stands now and what it needs to create or change. Any plan should involve the firm’s employees, review its progress against its competitors and align itself with customer and corporate brands.
Whatever the company or its circumstances, there are 5 key phases of work:
1. Purpose and values
People align themselves with other people, brands and businesses with a similar purpose and values.  This is your starting point and will aid alignment with corporate and customer brands from the outset.
2. Behaviours, culture, leadership principles
Defining corporate culture, behaviour and leadership principles comes next, because they shape how your people behave, which is a key driver of the overall employee experience and the customer experience.
3. Employee brand and value propositions
Build distinct employee value propositions to meet the values and needs of different types of employees and identify the common proposition that is relevant and compelling to all employees, differentiating your firm from competitors.
4. Employer brand and experience
Develop the remaining elements of the employee and strategic platforms to build the employer brand and experience. Once you have all the elements in place, you can work on defining an employer brand idea to align with your customer and corporate brands.
5. Prepare for execution
Before putting these ideas into action, review and refine all the elements to ensure they deliver against the brand idea. Develop your communications and engagement strategy and plans to ensure you bring your people with you on a journey to build a better company.
The last word
Whilst culture is key to employee engagement and consistent delivery of a good customer experience, your employer brand is required in its entirety to build your company’s reputation and experience as a ‘great place to work’ in the wider world.
As Jennifer Johnston, Salesforce Head of Global Employer Brand and Recruitment Marketing, saysA lot of companies lead with just the culture piece when they do their employer brand. That’s a very incomplete story, it’s not just about the environment that you work in.