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Leaders now know - people are their best asset

4 min read.

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Employer Branding, Talent Attraction, Brand Authenticity

Last week we showcased our 'Give and Get' employer brand strategy to senior business leaders and explained why people are the cheat code to the success their organization wants...

It was great to introduce our Give and Get strategy for Employer Branding to an audience of senior leaders last week and explain the huge untapped competitive advantage they have at their disposal - their people.

Our Advanced People Strategy for Leaders event was a great chance to demonstrate to an audience of more than 100 senior business heads how an authentic approach to talent attraction can provide a solid foundation for growth and stability.

When it comes to attracting and retaining top talent, organizations often focus on promoting the positive aspects of their culture and benefits. Over the last few years, however, we have been proselytizing with a different approach that acknowledges the importance of honesty and transparency in the employer value proposition (EVP). By articulating both the challenges and rewards of working within an organization, employers can repel unsuitable candidates while attracting those who are truly aligned with their culture.

Using the EVP to focus only on the suitable candidates and leveraging the power of authenticity can build a happy and productive work environment.

The smart filter approach

It is almost counter-intuitive to say that you want your recruitment process to repel people, but the true value of an EVP lies in its ability to filter out candidates who may not thrive within an organization, acting as a smart filter rather than a magnet.

You should be comfortable with that notion. It is helping you to assemble a team of motivated and engaged employees that are focused on achieving the outcomes you want.

By openly communicating the expectations, challenges, and harsh realities of the work environment, employers provide potential applicants with the information they need to make an informed decision. This approach not only benefits the organization by ensuring a better fit, but it also empowers applicants to assess whether they have what it takes to thrive in that work environment. In doing so, the recruitment funnel becomes more efficient, as the focus shifts from attracting a large pool of candidates to attracting the right candidates.

To create an effective EVP, it is essential to pair the harsh realities and challenges of the work environment with the benefits and opportunities it offers. This approach allows applicants to understand the daily experiences beyond just the best days, enabling them to decide whether they fit within the organization. By aligning expectations and benefits, employers create a sense of purpose, impact, belonging, pride, identity, self-worth, motivation, affinity, hope, and maybe even fun – crucial elements for building a strong and engaged workforce.

Examples of effective EVP strategies

Airbnb's CEO Brian Chesky, demonstrated vulnerability and empathy when announcing significant layoffs during the early days of the pandemic. 

Rather than hiding from a difficult and unpopular decision, in a letter to employees he openly addressed a challenging situation, and leaned into the company’s core principles

  • Map all reductions to the future business strategy and the capabilities required.
  • Do as much as possible for those who are impacted. 
  • Be unwavering in a commitment to diversity. 
  • Optimize for 1:1 communication for those impacted. 
  • Wait to communicate any decisions until all details are landed — transparency of only partial information can make matters worse.

In doing so the company managed to maintain its reputation as a great place to work.

Similarly, the US Marines' recruitment message that boldly states "99.9% need not apply” is perfectly aligned to its culture and reality and is the most extreme example of the Give and Get philosophy, directly repelling most candidates. But for the small percentage who see themselves in that elite group, it serves as a powerful call to action.

Traditional methods of creating brand ambassadors and advocates often fall short of capturing the true essence of an organization. Simply having individuals speak about how wonderful a company is may lack credibility and authenticity. To overcome this challenge, it is crucial to appreciate and acknowledge the moments where employees are truly tested.

By starting from a position of authenticity, organizations can encourage employees to share their personal stories, including their worst days and why they choose to stay. These genuine narratives add layers of authenticity to the brand and bring it to life, creating a deeper connection with the audience.

British Telecom, once perceived as a dull and unattractive workplace, embarked on a journey to transform its image to attract elite cybersecurity talent. The goal was to cultivate passion and pride in a highly demanding environment. By leveraging messaging that emphasized the importance and impact of the work, British Telecom positioned themselves as "the protectors."

It combined aspirational messaging with experiential activities to immerse potential employees in the challenges they would face. This comprehensive approach led to a significant shift in perception, instilling pride, and creating a sense of tribalism among employees.

Examples like these demonstrate how staying true to company culture, embracing harsh realities and being transparent can differentiate organizations and attract candidates who truly align with their values.

Your talent audience is discerning and will spot false and unrealistic promises a mile off. Not only is it a canny audience, but since the ‘great resignation’, which we prefer to think of as the ‘great reset’, the wish list of what they want from an employer has changed significantly.

For many it was an epiphany, and they are now searching for work that affords a work-life balance, perhaps some positive societal impact, within a diverse organization, aligned with their sense of purpose.

They might not seem realistic or even reasonable, and it’s not what everyone is seeking, but a great many of the people you need in your organization want to know more about what the workplace offers beyond a salary and a parking permit.

Make it personal

To embrace authenticity, organizations can encourage employees to share their personal stories, including their biggest challenges. These genuine narratives add real depth to the brand and bring it to life, creating a deeper connection with the audience.

Emotive communication forms a crucial part of an organization's talent strategy. By starting with appreciation, acknowledgement, and gratitude, employees feel seen, valued, and confident.

This, in turn, allows them to validate external messaging. By addressing the fundamental human needs of purpose, impact, and belonging, organizations can answer the question of whether individuals have what it takes to thrive within the company. To achieve this, organizations must be comfortable leaning into the harsh realities and challenges, aligning them with aspirational goals to create a powerful message.

Crafting a brand framework

A brand framework that encompasses the company's mission, vision, and values will serve as a guide for talent strategy.

Instead of focusing solely on strategic pillars of strength, however, it is crucial to establish a two-way value exchange - the "give and get." This framework outlines what the organization requires from employees and what they can expect in return. Throughout the messaging, storytelling plays a crucial role in bringing the brand to life in the context of people and talent.

Balancing authenticity and aspiration in talent strategy is a complex task, but one that can yield significant results.

Implemented correctly, it is an approach that fosters pride, passion, and a sense of belonging among employees, while also attracting and retaining top talent. By leveraging a brand framework and using the power of storytelling, organizations can create a continuity of messaging that resonates with diverse audiences and allows individuals to share their very real and often quite emotive stories.

In doing so, organizations equip themselves to address talent at scale and build a strong employer brand that can act as a life hack for consistent success.

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