Purple Cows and Garden Gnomes: HR & Talent Acquisition Could Do a Better Job at Self-promotion

Jun 8, 2017

I am not talking about posting articles online about your employee brand to attract talent.

What I am talking about is, when it comes to the HR and talent acquisition function, self-promoting internally about their value and achievements.

I have seen some great programs and initiatives that HR creates and promotes to the employee population, but not so much promotion of its own value proposition and functional value. Maybe HR leadership is concerned that it might be perceived as bragging, and that the focus should be on the people and company they support.

I don’t disagree, but I also think professionally tooting your own horn (and teams) is critical to get continual buy in and support to achieve the goals you have set forth.

You can strike the right professional balance of raising awareness without being braggadocios. You can be confident without being cocky. You can position value without making all about you, but make it about us/we.

Let me give you the details on why I think internal self-promotion is important, some examples as to how I tried (and sometimes failed) to promote my own function or an initiative, and how you can and should as well.

The Real Challenge

One of the hardest things to achieve in a corporate environment is to continually get people to understand and support your agenda and initiatives. I have seen the best plans and strategies fall short because the leader did not do an effective job promoting the value, progress, and results to the key stakeholders internally.

We have so much information flying at us from so many different angles, both internally and externally, it’s hard to remember sometimes why a certain initiative exists and the problem it’s trying to solve. People are busy, people have short memories, and people need to be reminded constantly why are we doing this initiative.

What is most important in your messaging is tying the value and outcome to why it’s important to them and the organization.

The Purple Cow

For some of you reading this, you might already be aware of the book by Seth Godin. If you have not read it, here is a quote from Forbes:

“In his book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, Seth Godin says that the key to success is to find a way to stand out — to be the purple cow in a field of monochrome Holsteins. —

I was lucky enough to stumble across this book years ago. When I read it a light bulb went off in my head about how I needed to think about standing out from the noise of competing information. If I wanted to get eyeballs on my initiatives, people to understand the value, progress being made, and ultimately support from key stakeholders on helping remove roadblocks, I needed to become a Purple Cow myself.

I needed to self-promote (my team), but in a way that cut through the competing noise of information and caught people’s attention (eyeballs).

If you have read my articles and advice in the past, you know I like to tell practical stories, not just theories, to help connect the dots on how you can make this real yourself.

The Story of the Sourcing Garden Gnome

Back in my early Microsoft days I was responsible for a team of sourcers whose primary function was to identify and attract passive talent and partner with the line recruiters on their harder-to-fill reqs.

Some of the initial challenges were perceptions by recruiters that the sourcers were here to either take their jobs, or some recruiters felt slighted on their own sourcing skills, because they were being asked to partner with a sourcer vs. finding all the candidates themselves. Let’s just say in the initial stages there was a little us vs. them going on.

While looking to build trust and credibility, the team needed to show progress and value to all the recruiters and leaders. I also needed to think about how can I accelerate this outcome, as Microsoft folk are not the most patient people in the world 🙂

So, I dreamed up the idea that for every first hire a recruiter made in partnership with the sourcer, we would give them a garden gnome that they could place in their office/cubicle space. We even wrote on the gnome’s hat, “I’m a CST hire.” CST = Central Sourcing Team.

My logic was when other recruiters and leaders came on by for a chat, they would see this strange one foot little garden gnome sitting on the recruiter’s desk, and because it stood out as being a little odd in a work environment, they ask the logical question:

What is that, where did you get it, and why is it here?

I had many a recruiter and leader tell me I was a little odd in my approach, but at the same time it achieved what we were looking for. It created some buzz, it got people’s attention, and helped put a focus on the value of helping support recruiters with candidates for their hard-to-fill requisitions.

Self/Team Promotion, But in a Purple Cow Type of Way

If you spotted the Purple Cow picture at the top of the article, that was a more recent example where I wanted to get my whole recruiting organization to think creatively to solve old recruiting/business problems. I bought multiple copies of the Purple Cow book and gave one to every leader on my team. The Purple Cow award was given each month to a recruiter who came up with the most creative solution to an old problem. They would proudly display it in their cubicle for the world to see.

I have put unique recruiting scorecards together in the past that tells the story and progress in ways that self/team promote value. I’m a big fan of letting the data do the talking, but standing out and getting eyeballs and interest still requires some clear thinking as to how can I make this simple, easy, and quick for the recipient to understand. What is the problem we are trying to solve? How are we making progress against the plan? Ultimately, what is the value we/you/us will get from achieving those goals?

My mind has now been trained to think about how we can ensure what needs to be messaged and communicated gets the necessary and maximum attention it needs. How can I/we stand out? How can we get eyeballs? How can I/we make this sticky and memorable?

It’s now part of my DNA. Make it yours.

Don’t Be a Spin Doctor. Be a Unique Storyteller

As I stated above, sometimes I get it wrong and I over-engineer my own creativeness. Sometimes I have invested in small pilot initiatives to show executive leadership how the team is willing to try new things to attract talent. Sometimes it does not work, but I am still showing team value by willing to push the envelope on trying something new and different to solve old problems.

People have short memories or fall into the “what have you done for me lately?” camp.

You must constantly try and find a way to make the audience aware of the value and progress being made. I’m not suggesting that you should promote success for every hire, or new person onboarded, but be on the constant look out for those unique stories and situations that are worth using to promote you and your team’s value.

After all these years thinking and doing this, I now have a set of core go to creative strategies I use when thinking about the opportunities to effectively promote the team, and yes, even myself when appropriate.

I always do my darndest when I write not to make it like your reading another marketing spin article or a pitch veiled in frail content. I want it to be real, just like the story of Mac.

Here Mac the CST Garden Gnome that still sits in my garden today (yeah, I took one with me when I left Microsoft ?).

Every time I see him, even though he has seen better days, it’s a nice reminder to keep pushing the creative boundaries, self/team-promote where appropriate in a professional way, and don’t stop being the Purple Cow.

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