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Nine Employer Brand Lessons from this Oscar winner

4 min read.



Employer Branding, Brand Authenticity, Wellbeing Initiatives, Talent Retention

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

That’s the thing about Employer Branding. After a while you start to see it everywhere. And it is everywhere because it is rooted in the truth of the human condition.

We are all searching for purpose and meaning in all areas of our lives and particularly through our work. When Employer Branding is your work, you don’t have to search, you start seeing the parallels in practically everything. It’s almost a curse.

Take Charlie Mackesy’s best-selling illustrated book and Oscar winning animation The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse. It tells the story of a lonely boy who starts a journey where he meets a cake-obsessed mole, a grateful fox, and a horse with a secret.

It might not sound like it, but it is practically a guidebook for Employer Branding, without ever attempting to be so. Like the best Employer Brands, it is full of truth, wisdom, and revelation about the human spirit and how collaboration and relationships are the key to it all.

Don’t believe us? Check out these extracts and how they relate to Employer Brand.

“We all need a reason to keep going,” said the horse. What's yours? “You three,” said the fox. “Getting home”, said the boy. “Cake,” said the mole.

Everyone finds purpose in life in different ways. For the mole, cake is his raison d’etre. And why not, other than the fact that moles don’t eat cake?

To find what the Japanese call Ikigai, which is defined as ‘a reason for being, encompassing a sense of joy, a sense of purpose and meaning’ you need to discover what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for and what the world needs.

Your Employer Brand exists to match your organisation with talent that finds purpose and fulfilment in what you do and what you are asking them to do. Happy workers are more productive and stay longer.

“The greatest illusion… is that life should be perfect”

Of course, you want to sell a vision of how great it is to work at your organisation, but unless you also outline the less appealing aspects of the company and the role (and every company/role has them) you are, in fact, selling an illusion. It’s not about showing how perfect your company is, it’s about showing how perfect a role is for the right candidate. Don’t be afraid to show the imperfections in your organisation.

“So, you know all about me?” asked the boy. “Yes”, said the horse. “And you still love me?”. “We love you all the more”.

Aw. It does get a bit sugary in parts. Most parts in fact. If you want a truly compelling Employer Brand, then you must be real and authentic in conversation with your talent audience. Those that are compelled by your offering will be enthused in a manner that goes beyond interest in the salary or the free biscuits, towards genuine excitement in the role and its purpose. Those that don’t love what is on offer will walk away and you should be absolutely fine with that.

“To be honest, I often feel I have nothing interesting to say”, said the fox. “Being honest is always interesting,” said the horse.

In our persona research, which helps us create an Employee Value Proposition and our Employer Brand story, we seek out honest, emotional responses. Particularly in our one-to-one interviews with staff and management.

That is where we often find the emotion and unexpected insights that bring our Employer Brand to life and enable us to instill real emotion in our stories. These authentic responses reveal a huge amount about what employees feel about working at a company and why they stay. Stories rooted in honesty and emotion are worth their weight in gold.

“Do you have any other advice?” asked the boy. “Don't measure how valuable you are by the way you are treated,” said the horse.

Employees with a strong connection to their company’s mission and values are 69% more likely to stay with their employer for at least two years, according to LinkedIn. Now, more than ever, employees recognise their own worth and if they are not aligned with your culture, you will not retain their services for long and they will move on to an organisation where they can find true purpose, impact and belonging. Retention is now the key theatre in the war for talent. Recruiting talent that is aligned with your values and demonstrating those values in the workplace is the way to keep your best people, saving money and increasing productivity.

“When the big things feel out of control, focus on what you love right under your nose”

When volatility is the new normal in business your Employer Brand should act as your North Star and inform the decision-making across the organisation.

It’s the intelligence and ability to react and adapt that really demonstrates the value of Employer Branding and the difference it can make in volatile times. It can be a voice of reason, consistency, and a reminder to people of what - in an ever-changing world – isn’t actually changing, which is your principles, your proposition, and what you stand for.

“Home isn't always a place, is it?”

Diversity in the workplace is now the norm. Bring your “whole self” to work is now an oft-used mantra. Some 71.5% of businesses say they have a diversity strategy, are making progress with one, or have “arrived”, according to Allegis. A LinkedIn survey says that 77% of talent professionals recognise that diversity is a crucial factor in the future of recruiting.

Some 89% of managers believe it is important for people to be able to bring their whole self to work. Yet, less than half of managers (44%) feel they can do so, according to research from MHFA (Mental Health First Aid) England. 

“What do you think is the biggest waste of time? “Comparing yourself to others”, said the mole.

 If you try to mimic what your competitors are doing, there will nothing compelling about your Employer Brand. Differentiation is essential. Find the truth about your organisation and align everything you do behind that.

Ask these questions:

  • Who are you up against?
  • What are you most desirable strengths?
  • What value that you offer makes you different?
  • Which talent audience are you trying to reach?
  • How do you want to be described by others

We talk a lot about the Three Cs of Employer Branding - Citizenship, Culture and Career Catalyst - which broadly define which kind of organisation you are and how you should position yourself to your audience.

Is your organisation about Citizenship like Patagonia perhaps; Culture like Google or are you a Career Catalyst that can act a springboard for progression like Amazon? Don’t pretend to be something you are not.

If you don’t know what your employer brand positioning needs to be, you will struggle to create a strategy that delivers value.

“When have you been at your strongest? asked the boy. "When I have dared to show my weakness,” said the horse.

The characters in the book are all on a journey of self-discovery and to reach that destination they must conquer their fears together by listening and supporting each other. To create an Employer Brand that is fully aligned with the values and objectives of your organisation, you must be brave, embrace the truth, and become self-aware as an organisation. Finding that truth, and creating moments of authenticity, openness and emotion is where the magic is, and the story that you tell based on those vulnerabilities will make your company stronger and more resilient.

Have you been struck by the Employer Brand curse? Are you noticing parallels everywhere - in a book, film, or series? Email us at [email protected] , we'd love to hear about it.

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