– Once upon a meeting
As I sat at the conference table, I wondered if the meeting participants had ever before shared a room together. They all worked for the same enterprise – a Fortune 500 energy company – but in very different capacities. After all, what did the Director of Brand have to do with the HR Communications Director, and what did either of them have to do with the Senior Manager at the head of the table? The answer, as we soon found out, had little to do with their places on the organization chart, and everything to do with an increasingly elusive person who didn’t even work for the company (yet) – a person we’ll call the Talented Recruit.
– The branding train don’t stop
Businesses are still finding new and interesting answers to the question: How can we put our brand to work? Once limited to the practice of crafting corporate logos, branding has emerged as a way of creating desire among consumers and motivation among employees. Target audiences have expanded to encompass investors, media, opinion leaders and others. Once the purview of graphic designers, brand guidelines are now sought out by managers of all stripes. And recently, companies have begun to see their brands as a tool for recruitment.
All of these developments track the growing role of brands as a management tool. They follow another trend too – the increasing use of brand content by consumers to shape their decisions. As many business managers are discovering, this doesn’t just mean the customer in Aisle 5. It includes job candidates in the employment marketplace. Not for nothing do we call it “shopping around” for a new job.
– A force of attraction
Consider all the elements that job candidates find important. Salary and benefits surely remain near the top of the list; but, today they compete with location, flexibility and virtual commuting, perks like gym memberships and healthy cafeteria options, and – increasingly – intangibles such as corporate social responsibility, stature and recognition, and a general feeling that one is “doing good work.” To wit: Google’s slogan and rallying cry, “Don’t be evil.”
In short, recruits don’t just want a great job, they want to work for a Great Company. This new criterion is beyond the pale of the traditional job description. And, in many cases, it’s a determination that takes place at the gut level, formed well before the first interview. So, how does a company telegraph its status as an employer? The same way it conveys its intentions to the marketplace at large; through its brand.
Add this point to the list of definitions for brand in the cosmic business dictionary: It’s the headline that attracts the best talent in the marketplace, the talent you need to compete successfully.
– It’s all about chemistry
Early in my career, I worked for the General Manager of an advertising company during a period of rapid expansion. At the beginning of the year, the agency employed fifty people. By year’s end the GM had hired three times that number. After each interview, one question emerged as both most intangible and most important: “Does he or she ‘get it’?”
We spent that year stalking a quality both elusive and exhilarating – chemistry. Before we could fit anyone into a particular job, we had to make sure that they were the right fit for the company as a whole. Did they share our values, our priorities? Did their professional goals map onto the company’s vision for the future?
As we searched for ways to ensure this “fit,” we found that what mattered was not just what the job candidates brought to the table, but what we did to get them there in the first place. We began to pay more attention to the way we wrote job descriptions, to the instructions we gave the head-hunters we worked with, to the ads we placed. These were early days, but what we had begun to do was to more accurately represent the company’s identity, vision, persona – in short, its brand.
We weren’t just making hires. We were matchmaking – finding the best possible pairings between company and recruit. The power of attraction was our brand.
– Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Today, there are few corporations of note that have not spent time and money building their brand. With every passing year, companies become savvier about developing their brand persona and finding new ways to put that brand into operation. As they do so, they realize new challenges and benefits: One of the biggies – be prepared to be who you say you are.
Schizophrenia is not an acceptable condition in today’s brand marketplace. Consumers expect you to be who you say you are at all times and in all ways. This includes job seekers. The brand they know in the supermarket or the showroom, in the magazine or on the billboard, is the brand they expect to find when they read the job description, take the interview, negotiate a contract. The question for companies in hiring mode: How do we position our brand for maximum impact among the talented recruits we wish to attract? How do we make sure that we embody the brand persona they expect, so that we’re sure to hire the people who are right for our company?
– The Persona, the Promise, and the Practice
Every job seeker must make the fundamental case: Here’s who I am, and here’s why you should hire me. Today, companies must make a reciprocal case: Here’s who we are, and here’s why you should work for us. Brands are important tools for making this case.
Returning to that conference room I mentioned at the outset: It didn’t take long for the Branding person and the HR person and the Senior Manager to realize how much they needed each other. Nor did it take any of us long to realize how much we needed the brand itself – and how great a challenge it posed at the same time. From the themes we developed, to the recruitment website we crafted, to the materials we wrote, the brand became both a common thread and a standard to be met.
The persona the company had created in the marketplace had to be tailored to address the specific context of recruiting talented professionals. The promise the brand made to consumers had to be translated into a pledge to the future employees who would devote much of their waking time to the enterprise. And, both had to be put into practice in authentic ways.
In short, as many companies are discovering today, we found that we had to promote the right brand in the right way to attract the right recruits.