Employee Brand Experience: An Extension of Shared Purpose
Workplaces have never been more diverse. This heterogeneity brings a welcome and necessary diversity of skills, perspectives and dispositions that defy groupthink and yield more resilient results. But diversity can create friction. Yankees vs. Red Socks fans. Extroverts vs. Introverts. EDM vs. Country music. Baby Boomers vs. Millennials. Android vs. iPhone. Blue, Red and Purple voters.
Don’t Leave Your Employee Brand Experience to Chance
All employees, regardless of background, rank or tenure share at least one major thing in common: They have chosen to come to work each day for the same organization. Shared Purpose represents a collective understanding of what the people who comprise the company have come together to achieve. Using Shared Purpose as the foundational idea to develop employee brand experience (EX), helps create a deeper, more consistent understanding throughout the workforce and directly translates into a superior customer experience (CX).
In addition, the battle for top talent continues to accelerate. Employers see more competition from traditional competitors and emerging new workforce dynamics of the “gig economy.” Present, past and future employees now enjoy countless ways to connect and share what their work experiences are like. As the traditional career trajectory evolves, companies increasingly look more for people who choose their job based on culture, rather than the job itself.
Amid this uncertainty, a strong employee brand experience is a flag, a signal to the likeminded. The employee brand experience is a worker’s answer to “How was your day?” or the deciding factor in a job recommendation. It’s the word of mouth and the building block of your reputation when it comes to company culture. The employee brand experience happens in the everyday. But to be effective, it must be anything but routine.
It’s an extension of company culture and a representation of mutual beliefs.
It’s also your employees’ stake in the company. After all, a true employee brand experience emerges from your people and their shared ideologies. Their voice is crucial to its formation, continuation and evolution of the employee brand experience. Ultimately, your people are the champions who carry the brand forward.
The Spectrum of the Employee Brand Experience
Your company’s diverse population spans generations, specializations and expectations. There isn’t a “stock” employee in the organization, and that very dissimilarity undergirds success. The array of perspective, influence and human element represents an essential asset in driving the evolution and advancement of every company.
Think about it in terms of the phenomenon of patriotism. Citizens love their countries, and believe that they are representatives of their culture, but often for vastly different reasons. One group of citizens may place top priority on the right to bear arms; another may be more vocal about freedom of speech and expression or religion… or even the Olympic team.
To adhere and grow as a nation, the culture must value each group for their individuality, while maintaining a patriotism that is singularly unique to their country. So that when the flag is raised anywhere in the world, citizens feel immediate fidelity and pride.
Despite the differences, your company is the reason that your employees have come together, and together you all have formed a culture. Even with an expansive common denominator, employees, from first-day recruits to 20-year company veterans, need to share the common ground of a unique employee brand experience.]
Even though the name, employee brand experience isn’t reserved exclusively for existing employees. It also impacts prospective employees, retirees, industry professionals, competitors, influencers, as well as friends and family.
Employee Brand Experience: an Extension of Shared Purpose
Shared Purpose is the singular idea that unites your company and your people. A clear and convincing Shared Purpose gives employees a reason to believe and customers a reason to buy.
Shared Purpose defines an organization’s value. It’s a concise way to tell the world not just what an organization does, but why it matters. It helps customers understand why they would want to do business with you and it shows employees that they are a part of something bigger.
We believe that your company’s Shared Purpose forms the foundation of your employee brand experience and that your employee brand experience, in turn, supports and advances your Shared Purpose. Our focus on this reciprocal relationship sets BrandCulture apart from how other agencies approach developing an employee brand experience.
For a more extensive discussion of Shared Purpose, see our companion white paper Shared Purpose: Why Do Good Businesses Become Great Brands?
Once an organization defines and builds its employee brand experience, it must consistently reinforce it across a range of different points of contact to ensure that it continues to align with company culture. This requires more than emails and breakroom signage. Employee communications are essential tools, but communications alone are not enough to engender true understanding and alignment. The everyday interplay between environment, structure, leadership, recognition, symbolism and consistent communications and dialogue is essential to extending and reinforcing culture–and to building a resilient, enduring employee brand experience.
Consistent and compelling communications with employees activate the employee brand experience and galvanize the organizational culture that supports it. Companies often overlook the importance of developing a concerted communications program to help employees understand what is expected of them, and to inspire them to live up to those expectations in recruiting, onboarding, training and performance-management efforts.
Many successful employee brand experiences use internal communications and knowledge-sharing systems and similar tools to create “insider” communities to communicate and collaborate in a controlled, information-rich environment. Of course, internal employee communications must always work in harmony with external messaging to customers, channel partners, media and others.
Creating the Right Environment
In the popular imagination, the words “good work environment” often conjures images of modern offices and hip startups with slides, instead of stairs. But such
an environment is just one of the many types of workplaces that can unite company culture together to create a common employee brand experience. There is no one-size-fits-all workplace or one upgrade that will fix everything. It can’t be solved with ping-pong tables and organic catered lunches alone.
Susan Cain, the author of The New York Times bestseller Quiet notes:
“The vast majority of employees work in open-plan offices, where you’re in a big open room with other people. There are economic reasons for setting up offices this way, but the theory is that it’s said to produce greater collaboration and greater creativity. For many introverts, in particular, this is a really uncomfortable way to work. It’s an incredibly overstimulating environment, where it’s hard to concentrate. We know from 40 years of research into brainstorming that individuals who brainstorm by themselves produce more ideas and better ideas than groups of people brainstorming together. And yet, we structure our workplaces increasingly around group activities.”
Environment impacts each employee differently. Understanding its importance and having the ability to modulate the workplace environment and align it to different needs and dispositions helps assure that each employee has an equal opportunity to succeed.
Recognizing Processes and Structures Play a Role
As a company grows, structure and processes become increasingly important. The interstitial glue that unites a small group needs to be institutionalized through structure and replicable process. Whether your company is hierarchical, flat or matrix (or a blend of all three) establishing deliberate structure and process ensures the extension and consistency of your employee brand experience. Innovation expert Tim Kastelle writes in the Harvard Business Review that it’s often the assumption that only startups and relatively new or small companies can have a flatter structure. But that’s not the case.
Take a look at W. L. Gore. Gore is one of the most accomplished firms in the world. The company has more than 10,000 employees, with basically three levels in their organizational hierarchy. There is the CEO (elected democratically), a handful of functional heads and everyone else. All decision making is done through self-managing teams of 8-12 people: hiring, pay, which projects to work on, everything.
But flat structures, of course, aren’t the only path to success. Amazon’s hierarchical structure represents the precisely opposite approach. Amazon features “levels” of classification – Levels 2 and 3 being the manual laborers, and Level 12 being reserved solely for Jeff Bezos himself – founder, chairman and sui generis CEO of the world’s largest online retailer.
Living the Brand through Leadership
Company leadership sets the tone and models the behavior for your organization’s values. “Do as I say, not as I do” is no longer an option in today’s transparent workplaces. Leaders not only serve as prominent ambassadors for the employee brand experience, they embody it throughout their work and interactions.
Professor Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map, notes that in the correct environment, leaders can connect with their employees on a deeper, more collaborative level using a more egalitarian approach. In her interview with textile executive Steve Herring, she states that an egalitarian structure is viable, but only if the culture and society permit it. Henning is a bike-commuter enthusiast. His Australian staff appreciated his casual attitude toward transportation and his relatability, since most of his employees rode bikes to work as well.
By sharing this common passion, employees found Henning more approachable and thus created additional opportunities for collaboration across different levels of the corporate hierarchy.
Despite the merits of this more casual style, it’s always essential to consider the cultural dynamics in which your business operates. When Henning transferred to a new position in China, the same egalitarian approach didn’t fly. In China, Henning needed to maintain a distinct separation from employees – a “power distance,” that is engrained within Chinese society and education system. Regardless of culture or society, leadership enjoys the unique vantage point to recognize, extol and reward those evincing the employee brand experience across the workforce within the confines and customs of each operating environment.
Recognition that Matters
Rewards and recognition can be a tricky game to play. One thing is certain: employees can smell a disingenuous prize from a mile away. People don’t want pomp for the sake of circumstance. They want rewards that matter to them and recognition that counts within the context of each unique organizational culture. They’re not going to be working harder for a trinket or a trophy; they’re going to be putting in that extra effort because of what the reward and acknowledgment represents. At Princess Cruises, employees and guests alike have opportunities to recognize crew for creating unique experiences that lead to lasting memories. Rewards not only include public acknowledgment and financial rewards, but also the opportunity to experience the magnificent Princess fleet as guests, so crewmembers can experience the sybaritic amenities and singular Princess service firsthand.
A Symbol to Define your Employee Brand Experience
Your ties of friendship cannot sever,
Your glory time will never stem,
We will toast a name that lives forever,
Hail to the IBM.
– First Stanza, IBM corporate anthem, 1939
From the employee walls at Airbnb to the historic corporate anthems of GE or IBM, symbolism matters in creating a compelling employee brand experience. The IBM anthem feels a bit over the top to modern ears, but whether it’s Hulu’s hall of employee portraits, Google’s “Geek Chic” wall of floppy discs, or even a contemporary company anthem, the symbols that are hallmarks of an employee brand experience represent, and could quite literally be a flag that your people stand behind. Symbolism is a true point of pride for employees and a visual reminder of the culture you share as a company.
And Yes, It All Comes Down to Shared Purpose
For us, it all comes back to a company’s Shared Purpose. For your employee brand experience to have enduring life, the employee voice remains the bedrock for building, maintaining and evolving it. This is their brand. To keep the feedback loop vibrant, use ongoing formal surveys and informal touchpoints to measure and assess alignment… and address any issues before they become widespread. This assures your employee brand experience remains relevant to employees on an ongoing basis, as the organization grows and evolves, and helps employees become even more invested when they see the impact of their input.
Your employee brand experience represents the manifestation of what employees see in the company now… and the aspirations of what they’re working for in the future. By defining the value you claim as a company, and creating an employee brand experience rooted in a common bond and shared values, the flag of your culture will fly high, long into the future.
Download the white paper: Employee Brand Experience.