CHRIS COLLINS: Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, depending on where you are connecting in from. I'm Chris Collins, I'm the director of the Center for Advanced HR Studies, CAHRS, as we like to call ourselves. Want to welcome you all to our continuing set of webcasts. It's part of our ongoing series on the future of work and the future of HR.
This particular episode we're going to focus on this topic of employer brands. And particularly how companies can think about the use of employer brands to attract digital talent, millennial talent to their organizations. So one of the things that I want to make sure we do is keep this as interactive as possible. So if you have questions, feel free to type them in the chat space at any time. I'll try and keep my eye down on the iPad here and look for questions as we go through. But again, the more we keep this conversational, I think the more entertaining it will be for all of us.
A couple things for us to think about. So this notion of brands goes back a long way, right. So it's been embedded in the marketing sphere for 50 or 60 years. And the importance of brands and what they are really is that a brand is a trigger, right, that helps influence consumers often at the point of purchase or at the point of decision making on a purchase, right.
The idea is that this icon or name or image or product picture is something that helps the consumer or customer envision what the product may be. It should influence them in terms of their trust in the product, their belief in what that product can bring them. And we know from 60 years of research in the field of marketing that brands have high impact. That particularly at the point of purchase, at the point of decision making, or even leading up to thinking about what are the possible opportunities to choose from, strong brands always outperform weaker brands.
So again, it's not surprising then that this has slid over into our own sphere of HR, particularly in the context of attraction and recruitment. And again, it is really important, and research backs this up, that brands matter for HR outcomes because of a couple key things.
So one, having a strong brand or a recognizable brand creates recognition. And recognition is an important part of decision making, because it creates a positive feel, right. People often see a brand image that they know well. And that typically creates, in most instances, a positive general feel about the organization and also creates a level of trust.
And we think about this in the decision making context of recruitment or deciding about whether or not to apply or come to work for a company, trust is super important because of this severity or the importance of this decision, right. Because its they're either leaving another job or passing up other opportunities. If they have a greater sense of trust, they're more willing to make that leap.
Another important aspect of brands is that that brand becomes a node in your memory in which you can then hook other aspects of the company, right. So that it becomes this memory link on which people can attach emotional connections. They can connect beliefs about the company. They can connect beliefs about the product or service. They may connect general beliefs about the company as a whole or its mission or purpose. So that first initial creation of that memory node allows people to attach and build more memories, more feelings, more ideas around the initial way.
So what that leads to, it makes it easier to recall that company. So when they come down to searching for organizations or searching for opportunities to move or relocate somewhere else, they often start by putting down, and you've probably all done this in your lives, putting down a list of those companies that they would be interested to go work for. And again, we know from research that if you are a well-known brand, if you have a strong brand, it helps you to break into that decision set.
But also, we know that if they're exposed to your company through recruitment advertisement or a recruiter or a job fair, if they know your brand, they're also more likely to wait in line, come talk to you, pursue more information, right. Because all those connections they've added to the initial memory node is a way to differentiate you from the competition. It gives you some additional leverage where they might have positive emotions about you, positive beliefs about what the jobs are like, positive beliefs about the company as a whole, and so on. So brands really matter a lot in terms of being able to recruit talent.
What we're seeing lately from research is that brands are even more powerful in tight labor markets, right. Because it helps people cipher out and decipher which companies they want to apply to, which ones they want to ignore. And busy, crowded spaces like digital talent or millennial talent with hot new skills, that ability to separate yourself out into that top set of companies more people will consider is super important. Because if you don't make it into that top set of categories, often you're pushed to the side, never to be considered again, right. So it's really important to think about how we can build these, right.
And so when we think about the key components of the brand for employers and employer brands, the first part of this is awareness, right. Do people know you exist as a potential outlet? And so I know a lot of companies struggle with this as they move from what we think of as the old line companies to having a much greater digital or tech component to their organizations, right.
Think about this in financial services. We think about this in manufacturing. We think about this in insurance and health care. Where more and more of companies like that are building a bigger and bigger digital component to have that added value to the products they make or the services they make, right. So in order to attract that digital talent to the organization, you have to create that initial awareness so you can become part of their decision set as a possible opportunity.
The second thing you're trying to build are these general positive attitudes toward the organization. That instead of seeing you as a boring, old line company they start to think about you in a positive way. The new, exciting things that are going on in your company, the positive attributes around how it might be fun to work there. You're going to have great experiences if you go there.
The third level then, which really helps then to set you apart and really differentiate you at that time of decision making is the specific attributes that that they have attached to the company. What would it be like to work in this company? What's the culture like? What are the leaders like?
What would the job be like? How challenging would that job be? How will it help me develop future capabilities and skills? Who would I work with? How would it be an engaging place to work based on my colleagues? And so on.
So people start to, again, they build the first awareness recognition of your brand that you exist. The second part is how do they feel about that? Do they have general positive feelings? And then the third part is, what are the specific beliefs about the job itself, what it would be like to work there, the experiences that they would have?
So when we think about this notion of creating your employer brand, it's really a set of steps that any company could pursue or follow to do this. The first is really spending time with your existing employees and trying to understand from their perspective what makes your work environment so special. Particularly, if you're going after bigger pools of digital talent or bigger pools of millennial talent, it's super important to talk to those employees that are already there, right.
So if you already have a big pool of digital talent or even a small pool or a growing pool of millennials, spending time in focus groups, conversations, having them help you understand what is it about your company that makes you special as an employer. Right, what are those things about the work itself? What are the things about their leaders, their colleagues, the culture of the company, the mission, the values, the purpose? What are all those things that make you unique, special that keep them coming back and make them feel so attracted to keep coming and working for your organization?
The second part then is what does your target population want? So spending some time in yourselves, going out and collecting that data. Working with a partner company who can go survey that population. But really understanding if you're going after a special kind of digital talent or tech talent, what is it they look for most in an employer?
What are the key things they want? Is it about the kinds of work they'll do? Is it about the skills they'll build?
Is it about their work environment? Right, do they all have to have bean bags? Or is it something different that really is what is going to drive their decision making?
And then the key part of that is what's the middle between those two? Where do those two overlap in that Venn diagram of what makes you special and what does a target population want? I'm sure that there's things that will resonate with them that you do really well that becomes your value proposition, right.
You want to come work here as a software programmer because these are the kind of skills you get to put to use. Here is the kind of work you'll get to work on. Here is the broader impact on society that we're making. Whatever those overlaps are, that becomes the value proposition you want to communicate.
Fourth point then is once you've got that value proposition is really thinking how do we get in front of that audience in a unique way? How do we make sure we continually and effectively communicate that message in a consistent way? So that when we've told them that we're a digital company and that we've got exciting work and things are really high tech around here they're not then going online and filling out a 45 minute paper and pencil application or re-typing in all the information that already shows up on their LinkedIn page, right.
So that communication piece is really critical, that we think about how do we get this information in front of them. How do we get it in front of them multiple times so they see it from different lenses? But then how does it also live up to their experience in the initial recruitment and application process? So if we're telling them we're fast paced and we're a digital company, you better make sure that the recruitment practices match that high paced digital technology message that you're trying to communicate, right. So that the effectiveness of the messaging often comes in the consistency.
Last part of the loop here then is really then assessing how well you've done, right. So have you seen an uptick in the number of applicants? Are you getting the right kinds of applicants? Are people who are applying actually flowing through into the interview process? Are they then taking the job offers once you're getting them?
And then start to assess. If you're not getting the right number, you're not getting enough of them, you're not getting the right quality or people are dropping out, where in that first four steps have you failed to do the right work, right? Do you not have not a clear understanding of what really makes you special?
Do you really not know what they wanted? Did you not create the right value proposition? Did you not communicate things effectively or the right way? Were you misleading somehow in terms of what it is actually like to work there?
And go back and modify or improve that messaging, right. So it's kind of constant iteration. Because, you as an organization, are also continuously evolving, right.
So a lot of this work probably also ties back to earlier conversations we've had in these webcasts on design thinking and the employee experience. A lot of that work we've already talked about in terms of those other phases of newer ways of thinking about HR. So I would also push you back to some of those webcasts for more information.
Again, how do I think about the value proposition? There's lots of key things, again, that are super important for how each of you can differentiate yourself in an important way. For some of you, it may be the company mission or your purpose that's a key differentiator, right. The way you impact lives, the way you impact people's financial well-being, their health and wellness, creating opportunities for people in developing countries to get water. Whatever it is, there might be something really unique about who you are as a company, your mission, your purpose, your values.
It could also be the products or services are particularly interesting to a population of people, right. So this is a exercise that the US military and US intelligence has gone through in their own quest to find high level programmers, high level computer science people for their own cybersecurity units, right.
So really thinking through what's the purpose that we have as an organization as the US Army or the US Navy or the CIA. How would we communicate that purpose? And then finding the audience that would be most attractive to that particular value proposition of defense of the country, right. Again, that notion of matching what you have to offer to a particular audience.
Again, you could also think about those things that make you unique in terms of your organizational culture, your values, right. So many of you have spent lots and lots of hours really diving deep into saying, what are the key values of how we lead here? What are the key values of how we treat each other? What are the underlying principles of our culture of what makes us who we are? So I'd really push you again to think about, you know, what are those aspects that make you different and those things.
I think you'd also want to look at the attributes of the work itself. What's the technology they're going to work on? How sophisticated is that? How complicated it is that? What are the ways that they're going to continue to push their own boundaries in terms of their skills, their capabilities, how they're going to deliver?
And then what are the other experiences that are part of the company? Is this a develop from within an organization that's going to give them lots of opportunities for learning and development? Are there going to be lots of opportunities to work on different teams, different projects?
What does the work environment itself look like? What's the space? What's the amount of time they can work remotely? Or is it all in the office, but it's an open office? What are the different kinds of experiences that they're going to have as they interact with their colleagues, with the work environment itself, and with the job? And again, your notion is developing a brand around those things that are resonating, both within your own community, but also potentially to your target audience.
Again, I'll also just encourage you to continue to ask a few questions as they come up. A couple of come in right now. The first of these is that sounds really great. How long does it take? That's a great consulting question, right. So how long does it take?
It depends on how well you know yourselves already. So a lot of you have already been down this path of thinking about the employee experience, really thinking through the idea of why are people engaging in work? Why are we making this a meaningful place for them to come every day?
You've probably already done a bunch of this work in terms of understanding your own employees. So maybe the work you need to spend on is really understanding that target audience of who else you're going after and what are their specific needs.
And again, there's ways to shortcut that through buying that through outside sources if you trust them. Partnering with colleges and universities where there's, let's say HR curriculum or courses where students might do this as part of a project. You know, lots of ways to get that work done. So I guess my answer to that is that it depends on both how much work you've already done and how creative you want to get on the external piece.
Another question that came in is, is this something we do for the company as a whole or what if the work environment and the types of work for our digital talent is totally different from lots of our other populations? And my answer to that is always it's great to have one big brand, right. Are there some things that hold across all these jobs? And that could be the things around mission, purpose. Could be the unique culture or values that we hold dearly to us as an organization. Those may be the building blocks that hold all the jobs together. That's the underlying theme of the brand.
But whenever there's a different population that has a unique set of work experiences, a unique set of things that they're working on, what they'll value, how they see it. So again, if your digital talent is totally different from your front customer service people, you probably want to have sub brands under the big brand, right. Really thinking through on each of those populations, what are the unique attributes of the work? What's unique attributes of their local community that they work in, the unique attributes of the things that they do and how they interact with each other? Let's separate those out.
So again, one bigger, higher arching brand that kind of fits across all people, right. Again, maybe tied to mission, purpose, values, leadership style of the company. And then within that, the sub brands that you can then use to market specifically to different populations.
So third question, which comes up a lot, is this notion of what if we already have a brand and that brand is embedded pretty deeply in people's minds? How do you get past that?
And I would say there's lots of great examples out there right now, right. So you know, one of the most visible of these was GE, right. So many of us probably saw all those GE, you know, digital industrial ads out there, many of which had the earmark of very much an employer branding public advertisement on television, right. Really showing these young digital talents in different situations or young engineering talent in different situations really talking about what is GE really like today. Why would a software programmer like me want to work here, right?
So the best way to get past that stickiness is trying to get that information in front of those people when they're not looking for it, right. So the value of the GE, and again, we don't all have the cash to maybe do you know, a Super Bowl ad, so that's not a recommendation for everyone. But there's lots of ways to get in front of that digital talent in ways that don't cost that kind of money, right.
So can you come on campus and if you're recruiting engineering students or you're recruiting software programming students, can you put projects in front of them as part of a class where they're working on some piece of software or some software project that's tied to your company or industry? Can they see the complexity of what they'd work on? And without even having a recruitment spiel, do they get to see how they would do something super complex in your company? That changes their entire perception of what your company is, right.
That yes, you're still in the banking industry, yes, you're still in health care. But I never knew that those were the kinds of software challenges that I would get to work on, right. So it's really it's almost a grassroots, guerrilla style marketing of getting in front of that population in ways that they don't have any choice, but to hear your message, right.
Because if you say oh, GE, that's a boring old company. I won't even bother applying to them. I won't even know that they've got these digital jobs. You would never consider it, right. But by getting in front of them when they weren't even looking for a job, you can provide them information that changes their thinking so at least they'll go and pursue more information, right.
So again, lots and lots of different ways you can get that depending on that target population, right. So the easiest one, clearly, is on campus. Where you've got captive students in an audience in a classroom.
So instead of coming and doing the spiel, oh, we're a great place to work and we're a great culture where they just nod off, you know, halfway through the first two minutes of the presentation, put a problem in front of them. Put out a programming challenge in front of them that's similar to the kinds of work that they'll do. That will flip the script pretty quickly in terms of how they see or perceive you.
That gets a little bit harder with the existing population. But we've seen lots of companies do this in terms of putting programming challenges out on the web, putting programming challenges out for other people to crowdsource ideas on, right. So that will also change and gives the potential to change perceptions of the complexity, the sophistication, and the newness of the big programming challenges or software challenges you might have, right. So again, I think lots and lots and lots of different ways to do this.
So moving on, some of these are questions that you already asked. But you know, I'm a big believer that you should probably have both a one size fits all brand and some sub-brands underneath that, right. So if you've got 50 different sub-brands running around and nothing holds together, then it's hard for people to see why your company, right. They might see in the short term here is an interesting job or here's an interesting location, but I'm not sure you ever buy in the hearts and minds of the entire population.
Nor do they feel connected to one another, which becomes important as work passes from one group to the next, right. So if your marketing people think they're here for this reason, your digital talent thinks they're here for another reason, your other front line employees might think they're there for yet a third reason, and there's no common purpose or vision that holds us all together, they don't really feel like collaborating with one another. They don't feel that they really trust each other because they're outsiders within their own company, right.
So having that one size fits all, right, the few things that really hold the company together as a whole really can be inspirational for making them feel part of something broader. And then within that, there is additional tack-ons for each of the different job types where there's a very different set of experiences.
Again, almost goes back to the conversation we had a month or two months ago on the employee experience and design thinking is that you've got different personas across these groups. There's things that hold them together, but then there's unique things that are unique to each of them, right. That's the notion of the sub-brand.
Again, Paul's question that he asked a few minutes ago around the changing perceptions or beliefs. Again, the harder the fixed old beliefs are the more there is to overcome, I think the more work it takes to get in front of that population in a way where they don't have to put forward the effort, right. They're already sitting in a classroom. They're already doing something and get almost tricked into seeing you in a new light.
Because if I've got a fixed perception that you're a boring place to work, I'm not going to personally exert the effort to go find information to change my beliefs. So you've got to do that in a way that you can get in front of them when they're not necessarily looking for information about you.
Again, there's lots of ways to do that. The idea of that programming challenge is out on the web, the idea of putting engineering or programming challenges in front of students on campus, coming to campus and doing a hackathon where you bring together students from different colleges to solve a problem. Those are the kinds of things that are both inspirational, because it's exciting, fun things for them to work on, but also radically changes their beliefs or thoughts about who you might be as a company.
Lots of questions I typically also get around this notion of should we be talking in our brand and value proposition about our current state or our aspirational state? Here's where we want to be as a company, so shouldn't we be communicating where we want to be versus where we are? And I would argue that that's a super dangerous path to take, right.
Because aspirations are aspirations. And often, if I think about my own aspirations around my golf game, my own aspirations about losing weight, they're very much aspirations, unfortunately, right. Because other things get in the way.
So I think if you're leading people in your company based on your aspirations of where you want to go, particularly with millennial talent and digital talent, they see through that pretty quickly when they get there. And if they're disappointed, millennials in particular are not afraid to leave and leave quickly, right.
So I think the problem is if you build the brand around aspirations, you're asking for some pretty exponential growth in your turnover rates, right. So I would really caution to say, you know, I know we want to get to here, but until we get to here, let's really just communicate people what the work is really like, what the place is really like, what they can really expect when they get here from our leaders. And that should be good enough to attract the people we want, we hope. But again, I think if you go down the path of here's where we'd like to be someday, I think you really run the risk of bringing in people who've committed for the wrong reason. And again, with both those populations of millennials and digital, they'll leave really quickly because they can get work elsewhere.
Last part is again I said this earlier, I really think that you have to make sure as you communicate this brand that you've updated your HR practices and the recruitment system, the selection system, to match what your brand is, right. So if you're telling this group of people hey, we're now a digital company, make sure the recruitment experience mimics that, right. So that you're not asking for 25 minutes of work out of them to apply when you could have just asked them to upload a resume or just upload the link to their LinkedIn page, right. If most of that work can be done digitally and you're trying to convince them that you're a digital company, don't make them go back 20 years in time to do all this manually, right.
So again, I would force you before you exert the effort to really push the brand, make sure all the steps of the recruitment process and selection process match the new brand that you're trying to communicate, right. So that it's smooth, it's fast, it's digital, it's cool. They get to connect in unique ways to current employees. They get to connect in unique ways to others like them. That there is interesting video that they can see and what the work environment is really like, and the work environment actually matches what you're telling them about, right.
So I think all those things need to come together. And once they're set, then you launch, right. I think launching with this new brand before the recruitment experiences match it, again, is potentially dangerous.
We've seen lots of companies talk about this in our working groups. How they went down the path of a new brand, started trying to attract that talent only for them to run into all the old hurdles, old barriers that we created in the recruitment and selection system. So again, just trying to make sure that's all in place.
I'm just trying to read some more question. So have we found ideals for each generations or differences across them? So do boomer digital talent want something different from millennial digital talent and things like that?
So my sense, and again, we've talked to hundreds of potential recruits. We've done multiple studies on this. Is we're seeing a real collapse in generations here, right.
So all of us, you know, my generation, Gen X, the boomers, the millennials, the new Gen Z that are coming out, we're all digital people now, right. So when you think about the experience of going to search for a hotel room, for airfare, for what restaurant you should eat at, we're all doing that in a very digital way now, right. So I think all of us are starting to expect that same kind of experience.
And we're looking more and more for the same kinds of experiences from our employers, right. That we want to have input. We want to have challenging work. We want to have development opportunities, right.
So I don't think any of that's millennial versus boomer versus Gen X, right. So I would push it more to say within these broad bands of groups of employees, you know, what is it again that makes us special? It could be that across your populations you are seeing differences. But I think that's going to reflect on who you've been attracting rather than kind of broad societal differences.
I see we're just about running out of time. Again, you know, I would just push you to say why do this. One of the other key outcomes of building a strong brand is particularly if you're involving your employees in this in some kind of design thinking approach to understanding it, it's going to help them internalize those values as well.
So what we've often seen is that companies, as they go through this, it really reminds those employees what is it that brought them here. Why is it they come into work everyday. And actually often it sees an uptick in engagement, because people are remembering what is it that makes this place special. So that often has a strong spillover effect on retention of current employees.
Certainly, as you communicate and you're communicating the true state of where you are has a big impact on retention of those newcomers as well. Ideally, what it also does, is as you involve those employees in helping identify what the key values are, they become your best recruiters, right. Because they're out talking to people at conferences.
They're communicating to people they meet at meetings or on the bus or on the plane as they're traveling, right. They become some of your best recruiters. Because now they have been through this experience of remembering it and helping you think through what makes you so special. Again, as we talked about the beginning, it also has again those strong outcomes in driving greater attraction and more applicants from the outside world.
There will be and there is up on the CAHRS website there's a summary of our most recent working group on this topic. So I'd push you to, if you're looking for more information, start there. There's also several research links up on the website on employer brands and outcomes of employer brands that you can look to. And we'll probably be looking to host another one of these working groups some time in the spring.
In the meantime, for those of you who are still with us, there's lots of upcoming activities where we still have a few open seats. So the CAHRS Fall Partner Meeting coming up here in Ithaca on the 12th. We're talking about the topic of the future of HR. And we've got a whole host of speakers talking about what's next in a whole bunch of areas, from compensation to learning to HR delivery and HR shared service, which should be just a great meeting.
There's also a meeting on on-demand talent in New York City. It's a working group. We're really looking at all the different kinds of workers and ways we're getting work done and how we're trying to manage those different populations.
There is a working group on strategic workforce planning in New York City on November 2nd. Another working group on HR shared services November 9th in Chicago.
And then the last thing I'll point you to is we've been doing a whole bunch of research with partner companies around the competency model for HR leaders for the next five to 10 years. So Professor Brad Bell is going to pitch out that set of findings that we have so far, seek your feedback and input on what we're missing, what are those that you see as the most critical competencies for HR leaders in the future, which one have we maybe overblown a little bit. So he's going to spend the first half of that webcast presenting our research, and use the second half to get input from you. So if you haven't signed up for that webcast, I would encourage you to help us really think through what the HR leader the future is going to look like.
So with that, I'm going to sign off. Thank you all for joining us. We will post the slide deck and any other feedback related to this some time later today or tomorrow morning. Thanks again for joining us.
NARRATOR: This has been a production of the ILR School at Cornell University.
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To compete in the new war for digital and Millennial talent, companies are once again focusing on their employer brand as a key tool to both attract talent to the organization and keep the hearts and minds of employees. While the concept of employer brands is not new, the ease of access to information; changing power of individuals rather than companies to control and impact employer reputation; and the rapidly changing expectations of potential and current employees make employer branding and employee value proposition efforts more difficult than ever.
In this webcast, Chris Collins, professor of Human Resources and director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (CAHRS), shares ideas, methodologies, and best practices around how to identify your employer brand and employee value proposition, the value of creating both an overarching employer brand and sub-brands to match the unique experience and needs of different employee groups, and the role of employer brands in engaging and retaining talent.