In 2010 I got a call from an internal headhunter about a potential job at Roche.
“Head of Employer Branding.”
I had been in recruitment for over 14 years at that time but didn’t have any knowledge of employer branding, or even really knew what it was. That wasn’t a problem though. They felt I had a lot of recruitment experience and did interesting things related to process optimization, sourcing, and developing recruitment training. The rest I would learn. I’m still grateful to Maggie Spong for taking that leap of faith.
It took me a few months to get my head around what employer branding really was. It took me a bit longer to understand how it would play with a corporate brand. Talking to the likes of Richard Mosley, Job Mensink, and Brett Minchington really helped me get a deeper understanding of things.
Fast forward nine years and here we are in 2019. Now that I’ve done two global EVP implementations at very different companies (Roche and Banco Santander), I wanted to put something on paper about the journey. Bear with me. This story turned out to be a bit longer than initially thought.
To put things into perspective: Roche is a Swiss global healthcare company present in 150 countries, with 93,000 employees and a decentralized structure.
Santander is a Spanish bank, one of the biggest in the Euro region and present in 23 countries. It has 203,000 employees and is very decentralized. In both companies, I worked out of a center-of-excellence position where I had no direct reports nor a mandate to implement policies. The only way to get things done was through close collaboration with these countries and convince them of the way to greatness.
Let’s start by painting a clear picture of what the employer brand can do for a company. This is essential when you position it with the different stakeholders: your CEO, head of communication, head of branding/marketing, and CHRO.
The reason I’m focusing on the heads of communication and brand is that often you see that employer branding is positioned as an HR thing that doesn’t really get embedded (read: supported) throughout the organization.
EB is part of the larger brand. It cannot stand alone. At Santander, for instance, we had a stakeholder quadrant with customers, shareholders, communities, and people. Employer brand is the people piece in the whole puzzle. A strong “people brand” has and impact on shareholders who look at whether a company is capable to attract and retain talent.
Very often we will see that part of the EVP and key messages are related to the core of the business (the mission, corporate responsibility, etc) but we don’t own these messages, nor do we want to (re)write them. We need to ensure that these messages (and any visual style we develop) are aligned for all stakeholders.
In a lot of cases, our recruitment/HR teams (think global here) won’t have an employer-branding expert and have it sit with an excited recruiter. But employer branding is the first thing that goes out the window the moment more reqs open. Brand and communication teams are better suited to create and distribute the necessary content.
Let’s get back to the objective of creating an employer brand.
The goal of an employer brand is to increase awareness and positively influence the perception of your company as an employer
This is the 10,000-foot mission of your brand. Our employer brand contains all the efforts to tell a story to people who aren’t aware (or weren’t thinking of you when contemplating a change) and to ensure that this story creates or maintains a positive perception of you as an employer.
If people are aware and have a positive perception of you, it will become easier to attract and retain them.
Essentially, we are following the old AIDA model that you see in marketing and sales funnels.
An Employer Branding Model
At Roche I followed an employer-brand model to keep on track. Developing the EVP is just the first part (identity & guidance) of a long journey. Once you have developed the EVP, ensure that various countries have the tools to implement it. You need some governance, understanding how to activate it (both locally and globally) and measure the results to learn and adapt.
I’d be very interested in hearing your feedback on this model.
The 4 EVP Conditions
In all my projects I put four conditions on the EVP:
- It has to be relevant
- It has to be differentiating
- It has to be authentic
- It has to be an internal and external story
I think it is quite self-explanatory. Your EVP should target the people who are crucial to your organization. Secretaries are very important in our daily functioning, but they won’t (hopefully) make or break your business. For tech companies it might be its developers. For pharma companies it might be its scientists. For an insurance company it might be salespeople.
Your EVP has to be differentiating. You can’t go out and say the exact same thing as your competitors. You need to find your unique selling point, which is hard.
The third and fourth conditions are, IMHO, the most important one. If your own employees don’t believe and support your EVP, you are lost. Jeff Bezos already said it: “A brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
For the sake of our story let’s change it to:
“Your employer brand is what your candidates and employees say about you when you are not in the room.”
We can’t control what our employees say about you. But we surely can give them the right narrative. That narrative must be based on the authentic employee experience/perception. If your employees feel the key messages resonate with their experience, they are more willing to share it online, refer friends to work here, leave a comment on Glassdoor, or in general have a good story about you. With that they are creating a picture that can be picked up by potential candidates and even convert them into brand advocates. I’m pretty sure there are thousands of people that would refer Google as employer even though they have never worked there, because of what they heard about Google.
The fourth condition supports the employee advocacy that we are in the end seeking. But the internal and external messages should be aligned to prevent us from creating this unrealistic external perception that we can’t uphold once people have joined.
Something I haven’t mentioned yet: in both projects, we included local partners. These were normally someone from talent acquisition and someone from internal communications/HR communications together with our corporate brand and communication teams. Outside of that core group, we identified key stakeholders in learning & development, compensation and benefits, and culture (HR communications), whom we needed to keep up to date.
Step 1: Understand Your Candidates
Understand what candidates are looking for when considering a new job. At Roche we did extensive research together with Gartner about candidate preferences in many different countries. We used CEB/Gartner, but Universum can help with this as well.
Our question was about how deep and differentiated your EVP needs to be. Do you need to create a separate EVP for each talent group, or is a more generic EVP fine?
What we saw was that there isn’t actually so much difference between gender, age, function, or seniority in each country.
There are of course some attribute differences, but nothing that would justify creating a separate EVP for each target group. What we did see was that there was a large difference between countries.
A side by side comparison: China, Germany, Spain
While “compensation” is the most rated topic in all countries, “development opportunities” are second, thirteenth, and seventh respectively in these countries. A side-note on the information in the table: This is the 2018 information from Gartner against the global average. The percentages reflect how often that attribute was selected in the top 10. It does not necessarily mean that compensation is the most important element.
Based on our research we came to the conclusion that:
The difference between a German and Swiss HR expert are bigger that the difference between a German HR expert and a German engineer.
Your EVP must be local. We want to work toward a global EVP, but need to localize it (or start from the bottom and build the global EVP based on that).
At Santander we said it was a 20-80 approach. Twenty percent of the EVP was going to be global, and eighty percent was going to be local. Going very local means that governance is a lot harder.
If you really want to get a deep understanding of your target group, set up external focus groups with your target audience. Due to our global scope, we decided not to do this for our research.
Step 2: Understand Your Internal Audience
Once you know the requirements of your candidates, understand your internal reality. We did this in two ways:
Employee Engagement Surveys
Both at Roche and Santander we ran an annual employee engagement survey which provides incredible information about how employees view certain aspects of the organization. Think leadership, direct managers, compensation, benefits, work-life balance, etc.
Through an Excel spreadsheet (I’m a total Excel nerd) we started pulling in the responses we needed for each of our EVP attributes. This is where you see your EVP come to light. You see what’s important to candidates paired with your own employees.
As you may have guessed, I’m a big fan of data. I consider it the basis of any EVP, both to develop and to track it. But for our external audience we decided not to organize focus groups, we did have focus groups in our main countries for the internal piece. At Santander we had two groups per country: people with 5-10 years of experience at the company (to capture those who decided to stay at the company), and people with 1-2 years of experience at the bank, so we could capture why they have joined (and how we’ve met their expectations). For the last group, we invited a lot of “digital talents” (UX designers, data scientists, cyber security specialist, etc) to ensure we understood their experiences.
The results confirmed our findings based on the data and gave important nuances that would help us craft an engaging key message. They confirmed our findings that there wasn’t so much difference in the actual attributes between junior and more senior people (so much for all that talk of Gen Z and millennials)
Step 3: Understand Your Competitors
Once we had our draft EVP, we turned to the second condition of the EVP. It has to be differentiating. There is no use in creating an EVP that is very similar to what your talent competitors are saying. As all products have a unique selling point, your EVP needs the same. There is always overlap in some attributes such as career development, great colleagues, and perhaps compensation and benefits (which I’m not sure anybody really uses in their EVP), so you need to research for that unique item (or at least make it sound unique)
What we found was very interesting: we all say the same and we talk too much! Some companies had up to 10 attributes which led to no delivering on any of them. So we took a clear decision:
Keep your EVP to five attributes, maximum. People won’t remember more than three.
The main differentiator we found was “job impact.” Both a Roche and Santander actually this was the main driver. Roche as the largest oncology company made it a bit easier. Who doesn’t want to improve lives? We all have touched cancer in some way.
At a bank, it may sound funny, but people underestimate the impact that a bank has (despite their reputation / various crises), but we can’t live without banks to buy a house, a car, grow our business, etc. This really resonated with our employees and was a motivator to work here.
In both cases we as well did a series of interviews with executives. The objective was to:
- solicit their input (what they think makes their company a great place to work),
- sell the EVP project (things get easier if they are excited about your work)
- get feedback on the EVP and potentially key messages
Step 4: Creating Your EVP
So, after 6-8 months we now had candidate preferences, internal reality, and market competition. Based on this we could start selecting EVP attributes. Think of a formula:
EVP=Cp + Er – Mc
For each EVP attribute, candidate preference (Cp) plus employee reality (Er) minus market competition (Mc) gives you a value that can help you decide on the importance and impact. It’s not scientific but can help you use what you’ve gathered with data, interviews, and focus groups.
Now test your EVP in real life. At Santander we did that through a survey with 1,500 people externally and 1,500 employees, as well as conversations with our stakeholders in multiple countries. We came to our final global EVP. That is where it really things got interesting.
The hard part was creating the key messages to go with them. We didn’t want to stick with the labels of “job impact, work/life balance, career development,” etc. We wanted really compelling messages. This is really where we worked very closely with our great communications team to ensure that we would align the message with the corporate approach. Impact, stability (transformation), and respect are messages that were already being used at a corporate level. We changed the narrative slightly to make them resonate a bit more with our audience. Below are the global EVP and key messages.
One very important point to make:
Your EVP should not turn into empty slogans. Show, don’t tell, what it is all about.
We make a huge effort to come up with actual proof points for each attribute. Some of our key messages would surely look great on a coffee mug or a poster. That wasn’t what we were aiming for. We wanted substance and content to show our attributes. The key message was merely the title. Below is an example of how we embedded proof points in our EVP attribute “respect.”
Most companies create a slogan to capture their EVP. We decided to stay away from this a came up with #TheSantanderEffect. A hashtag is more modern, and an excellent way to track things. And, it is simple enough to recognize. It leaves room for further messages. The strength in the EVP is in the attributes, not in a catchy slogan.
Step 5: Create a Visual Style
At Roche we worked with a great agency that helped us define an employer-branding visual style that was completely different from others. We wanted to move away from having happy smiling people that have the perfect diversity as was so nicely demonstrated by Richard Mosley.
We decided to combine drawings with a human element (hand or arm) to express certain elements of working at Roche. Whether you like it or not is very personal. We did extensive testing with our own employees. The majority (80 percent) rated it 7 or higher on a 10 scale. That was enough to move forward and develop the concept.
We created 15 different visuals that were used around the globe. The benefit of this setup was that it allowed for an easier global approach since we didn’t have employees / faces.
At Santander we decided to stay closer to the corporate brand (the corporation had just developed their new corporate visual language). We did a photo shoot with our employees in Madrid (supported by our agency BBDO) with the intent to have enough diversity to allow countries to use them directly and to entice them to create their own material.
Step 6: Deliver the Tools
The biggest lesson I’ve learned when implementing a brand in a decentralized organization:
Give your countries free stuff to get started.
Countries very often have invested significantly in your previous brand. It takes time and money to replace on- and offline material. By giving them free templates, visuals, and videos, you help them sell it internally. On both occasions, I gave countries up to 18 months to replace the branded material.
We started with a brand book (you can’t do without it) in the three main languages (Spanish, English, and Portuguese).
The best investment we made was in the brand center, as set of tools helping people embed the brand locally. Essentially you build templates for posters, banners, social media, and more. Add your visuals and allow them to enter their own text. Voila: they’ve got a perfect, on-brand, poster/banner at no cost.
Here are examples of how we used the brand center to show and not tell, with specifics and not empty slogans.
We shot three videos in English, Spanish, and subtitled in many different languages.
Step 7: The Localization
Localize your global EVP. Take the effort to go to each country and work with them to ensure they are comfortable with the EVP and the key message. Our global EVP matched the local circumstances 95 percent. That is a bit surprising when you think that geography was the biggest differentiator in our research. Our five attributes resonated everywhere. The big difference was the key message, the local proof points, and the noise level of each message. To put this differently: Instead of creating a separate EVP for each group, dial up and down the volume of your messages per their needs.
When you start diving deeper into the requirements of technical job profiles, for example, you will see that you need to highlight the digital transformation, tech projects, your freaks and nerds (they do rule the world!) to connect with your audience. That means you are not necessarily changing your EVP. You are just turning up the volume of that particular key message.
Your employer brand needs to be embedded everywhere. Don’t just stick with the external part (which is the easiest). Make sure your own employees are seeing (or better: living) the message. Let them be the ambassador of your brand.
After visiting Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Austria, Germany, and Spain (for Roche you could add the U.S., China, Thailand, Singapore, Poland, Russia, and Vietnam) all the main countries at Santander had at least received the messages and localization. Now it’s up to them to use it.
Step 9: How to Measure
There is only one KPI that really covers how strong your brand is. This KPI comes actually from looking at how we shop today: when booking a hotel, when buying stuff at Amazon, when deciding on which movie to go to I look at price, description, and some pictures, but the real decision is based on the comments that people left about that particular hotel, product, or movie.
For jobs it isn’t much different these days. People will go to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Glassdoor pages to see what people are saying about you.
Your EVP has to be authentic, so your own employees are experiencing and believing it. With that, they are willing to spread your message (which is based on proof points, not empty slogans) and build your reputation as an employer. If your employees are happy to work here, they will most likely refer friends to open jobs. Your EVP is as strong as your willingness of your employees to recommend you as employer.
Most of us know this KPI as the Net Promoter Score. NPS has been used for years in consumer marketing. It is a very simple and powerful way to demonstrate your EVP strength up to the C-suite.
An NPS is built on one question: how much are you willing to recommend this company to a friend seeking employment? Understand how it is calculated. This helps you take action with the appropriate group. It isn’t enough to just focus on the promoters. Understand why passives get more excited. Understand the complaints of the detractors (and get them to move to passives or even become promoters).
Here is an overview of where I’ve embedded NPS in the past.
- Employee engagement survey. This is a key element, as it tells you how much your own employees are willing to promote you. If this is low you should first work on your employee experience.
- New hire satisfaction survey: I would assume people you have just hired are more than willing to promote you, but check anyway.
- Candidate (not hired): This gives important insight into how people have experienced your hiring process and if they are still willing to promote you even though they are rejected.
- External surveys. This is one is a bit trickier. Run a survey on your social media platform and spend some money to promote your survey via paid promotion. You’ll reach people who are not yet following you. They will give you a more balanced picture of your overall NPS.
There are many indicators out there that may work for you. I’ve found that the NPS is really easy to measure, gives good insights, and is something that you can very easily explain to your senior management. If you are a business-to-consumer company, your marketing colleagues will almost certainly make use of NPS. Perhaps you can even piggyback on their efforts.
That is it! I’d love to hear ideas and thoughts about our EVP journeys and learn from others. I hope you enjoyed the post as much as I did writing it.