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If your employer brand doesn't scale, it will fail

If your employer brand doesn't scale, it will fail

Jonathan Davies


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4 mins read

Mon, Jul 20, '20  

Automation. Globalization. Robotization. Just a brief glimpse at topics currently affecting us all.

Millennials now make up the predominant workforce in the USA, where baby boomers are on their way out. Gen Z is starting to make its influx too. The world has changed and its people with it. Where TV sets broadcasted ‘plastic reality’ in the eighties and nineties, those millennials now crave authenticity. Brands frequently fail to satisfy that craving. Fear is the main factor for this failure – companies are afraid to be anything but themselves. While there are numerous examples of consumer-oriented branding, the employer branding side of it is often left ignored. Yet it suffers from the same problem.

Agile isn’t a fashion statement

An example of this is the entire “Agile” hype. “We want to be an Agile company” has become the slogan for corporations since 2017. The result? Something closer to a fish on dry land than post-its and smiling employees. Being agile means giving up control, accepting uncertainty and empowering people. Paradoxically, exercises in employer branding often mean to do the opposite – gain control of a company’s promise to the job market. The thing is, even in a traditional bureaucracy, you have no control over that. Your company’s Glassdoor page is a better reflection of your real employer brand than what you do. Why? Because it’s organic, made by people – all things that employer branding should be. If it’s not organic, it can’t scale. If it doesn’t scale, it will fail.

Case in point: in 2017, The Guardian wrote about Deliveroo’s naming conventions towards employees. They created branded names...for humans. To apply something as artificial as naming conventions to a company’s most organic factor  - employees  -  and expect it to last, is foolish.

An ode to storytelling

Storytelling is one of the greatest weapons of any brand. It works incredibly well when it’s honest, relevant and new. If it’s not something new, or a fresh take on something existing, no one will care. If it’s fabricated, no one will care. If it’s not relevant? Well, you get the gist. We humans perceive reality through the stories we make in our heads – so imagine if you could have an effect on that.

Robert McKee explains in Storynomics: “When self-awareness invaded the first human mind, it brought with it a sudden, sharp sense of isolation. Self-awareness brought another, even more frightening discovery, unique to humanity: time. The first human being suddenly found herself alone and adrift on the river of time.”

He later goes on to explain that, in order to cope with the frightening idea that “I am”, and the even more frightening idea “And someday my time will end”, our minds storify reality. Philosophy, folklore and even self-help methodology – these are all examples of a coping mechanism for reality, brought forth from stories that we invented or recorded and mused around.

Case: Humans of New York

Imagine this. The city of New York is an employer, its citizens the employees. This makes Humans of New York a fantastic example of what great employee storytelling should be. The stories covered are authentic, new and relevant. They touch on a level that humans understand universally – emotion. Even posts that aren’t dramatic can be humorous, entertaining or inspiring, but at its core is reality. Warts and all. It shows the beautiful side of New York, the ugly one, the inspiring one and so forth. Now I know, you’ll probably want to highlight the good things about your people, highlighting good things about your company through them. That can be difficult, but focusing on the human side of things will yield results. Case in point: this series on IBM’s Security people. It shows the human side behind an industry that’s traditionally seen as boring, but suddenly becomes engaging and informative when it’s told from the human perspective.

Emotion creates content that sticks

Interviewing your colleagues is a great way to start. They tell it, you write it. I’ve done interviews like this before and I’ve seen smiles, revelations, tears, and more. That raw emotion translates into good content. This is a small example of what employer branding should be: organic, authentic stories about people, and the company they’re in. Read that again. People, and the company they’re in. Not the other way around.