When things get complicated and hard to get your head around, it’s always tempting to say: “OK, let’s get back to basics.” The intention seems sound enough. Inarguable even. But does it work?
Some of you will be old enough to remember a beleaguered Prime Minister trying to unify his party around a now infamous Back to Basics campaign focused on family values, respect for the law, and moral probity. Unfortunately, the basic instincts of many of his MPs directed them towards illegal lobbying, cash in brown envelopes, and a dizzying array of sex scandals. It ended, inevitably, with cries of hypocrisy and a landslide election defeat.
Like most familiar things we assume we all agree on, the “basics” we often want to get back to aren’t all that universal, or basic, at all. Once you scratch around at foundations, they have an annoying tendency to start to crumble.
Employer branding is no different. In our last series of LEAP Listens podcasts we spoke to Ben Phillips, an expert in employer branding before it had a name, who poses the question, “Going back to real basics and the language we use in this industry, what do people mean when they say Employer Branding? I think you could ask that question to ten people and get ten different answers”.
So where to start?
For many moons, the foundational transaction defining working life was the employer/employee contract. You give me ££ and a bunch of benefits (thank you very much), and in return, I’ll do x, y and, with some extra incentives, z (you’re welcome).
It’s a model that dictates a certain kind of recruitment communication, usually involving a shop window approach where the goodies you can offer are laid out as sparkly enticements. It’s also a model from another age when dusty old concepts like a job for life weren’t unicorn propositions but commonplace reality. And you certainly don’t need us to tell you things have changed.
Employee Value Propositions have evolved from inviting displays of shiny HR baubles, to an integral part of a larger Employer Brand. In fact, we’d suggest that the Proposition part of EVP looks increasingly like a hangover from a transactional past.
As we get used to more flexible working arrangements, candidates also look more keenly at values-based stuff like affinities of interest and sustainability. They want a relationship, not a transaction, and purpose alongside their pay cheque.
So what do “basics” look like in this new EB landscape? Here are six we’re very happy to get back to.
Authenticity deserves better than being described as a buzzword. Because if we’re talking true, honest, swear-to-God authenticity, it’s not going anywhere. And here’s the rub: being authentic involves warts and all honesty, which can be a tricky pitch when you’re trying to recruit.
If you think about it as a candid, transparent process of understanding who you are, we reckon you’re on the right path. Use it as a catch-all descriptor and you’ll be found out pretty smartish.
Looking across company career sites you soon start to see double, triple, quadruple… The same values, often claimed as unique, appear again and again. Let’s call it the Groundhog Day values effect.
There are a couple of options for breaking the cycle. You could locate some under-the-radar values that no one else uses to distinguish yourself, or (and we strongly recommend this option) you could relax, think about which values really reflect your company culture and celebrate them. It’s not bingo; you don’t need a full house to impress candidates.
We’re all guilty of overcomplicating, and Ben Phillips offers some great woods/trees-related advice : “Go back to the roots of what you’re trying to achieve and stay laser-focused on that. Then use the tools and techniques you need to achieve it.” It’s easy to get distracted and miss weak links in the user journey.
Ben gives the enduring bugbear of bad job ads as an example: “You look at the majority of ads and they are just not up to scratch.” All that wonderful talent attraction work and messaging you put across platforms come crashing down if the endpoint disappoints. “You have the most fantastic, latest TikTok creative which you’ve slaved over for however long… but ultimately all roads lead to a job ad. So you should fix that first.”
Now, this might seem pretty obvious and, well, basic. But you’d be surprised how often it gets sidestepped. When we stand in front of the mirror and look at ourselves, we normally see, for better or worse, what we want to see. Other people can give us a much more truthful picture, but we need to listen to them. Like, shut up, give them space and really, really listen.
Having invested considerable resources in attracting candidates, it’s a smart move to then listen to them as employees to see where the gaps between the brand and reality lie. Surveys, reviews, exit interviews, and Glassdoor ratings can be the honest, tough-love friends that everybody needs.
Getting the right metrics to assess the impact of your Employer brand is crucial, but, like our other basics here, can get complicated, quickly. So much so, that we’ve written a bite-size blog all about it, which you may be lining up to read next. Please do, but not quite yet because there is still…
So, we’ve mentioned the shift from transactional contracts to more value-based relationships. And we’ve all been part of making it happen. And we can all agree that it definitely belongs in the file marked Good Things That Have Happened.
But, and we’ll whisper it, we imagine you still have an employment contract. And it still has stuff about salaries and benefits. Which takes us to the most basic of basics. As Ben Phillips says, “Your brand is not your reputation. Your brand can help contribute to your reputation, but your reputation is borne out of what people think when they’ve had a physical interaction with you.”
Great values, purpose and employee affinity can’t be a cover for not supporting your people generously if you are able to. Because sticking-plaster values are definitely not authentic.
So there we have it, back to basics on basics. Are you nodding in agreement, or shouting at your screen? Let us know.
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Need help with your EB strategy basics? From job ads to authentic messaging, we can get your brand into shape. Let’s chat.