It’s the Little Things: To Build a Great Employer Brand, Start Small

To build a great employer brand, start small.

Lots of people think of employer brand as something “big.” They think that it requires huge budgets and that it is something expressed in Super Bowl commercials, at big showpiece conferences or with cool recruiting swag.

But not everybody can afford to do that. And I would argue that employer brand becomes truly powerful when you see it, touch it and interact with it in very small ways.

More so, what if that’s when it becomes more credible to the candidate?

Have a well-understood “why,” and a great employer brand will follow

There’s a famous story that dates back to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Sir Christopher Wren passed some stonemasons at work and asked what they were building. One replied, “A wall.” The other looked up, paused and replied with reverence, “A cathedral.”

The message? If you have a well-understood “why,” people will work harder and better in service of it. They will complete the task to the best of their abilities and challenge bad decisions to make sure the job is done right. And that purpose trumps money when it comes to getting real passion and commitment.

Today, employer brand is that “why.” Why work at the company? What will working at the company be like? What will I get out of a job here?

But that “why” is all in the details.

Does the stonemason need a huge sign that says, “We’re laying the groundwork for something amazing!”? Or a big-budget video that talks about how committed the stonemason is to the project? What about an ad with the headline “We build better because we care”? Of course not.

And if there was, would you believe it?

You know the second stonemason’s work by how clean their station is, by how they take two extra seconds to step back and ensure their run of stones is laying properly and by the fact that it’s almost 6pm and they are the last one packing up.

What can you tell about an airline based on how the flight attendant greets you at 6:30 in the morning? What can you tell about a restaurant from the cleanliness of its bathroom?

Subtle clues and fine details like these tell us more about a business than all the advertising in the world.

Forget big, shiny and expensive it’s the little things that count

Employer branding works the same way. A big, shiny campaign about why a firm is a great place to work mixed with some carefully curated reviews will mean a lot less to you as a job seeker than what your friend who works there says about the place. All the swag in the world turns to junk when the recruiter takes a few days too long to call back or when the hiring manager spends the interview checking their phone.

What’s the difference between a massive chain restaurant and a local brasserie? Does the expensive sign and marketing campaign make the food taste better? Are you swayed to eat there because of the “brand,” or do you build your perception of the brand based on your own experience?

Any brand, be it a consumer or employer brand, is a collection of an individual’s experiences. Those experiences are small. It’s in how a waiter brings extra napkins for a messy burger without being asked versus lighting flares just to get a water refill. It’s in how easy it is to find your shirt size versus how hard it is to find someone to unlock the changing room.

To start making change happen, think small

So if you are starting to feel the pain of a poor employer brand (bad reviews, having to pay a premium for talent, low morale, high attrition, etc.) — or if you’re starting to build one — maybe the answer isn’t “big,” but rather small — changes you can implement immediately.

Maybe the answer is in the sense of the company mission and how well people think everyone works toward it; in the choice to book a quick minute meeting instead of just adding yet another link in that email chain; in the commitment to inclusion and fairness, not the posters saying how committed you are to inclusion and fairness; and in how bosses say “thank you” or don’t.

It’s in the words being used over and over on review sites, social media and job postings.

Changing your employer brand is a series of small changes aligned to a big idea. So if you want to make change happen, think small … before you go big.

James Ellis is host of the popular podcast the Talent Cast and Lead Employer Brand Consultant at Proactive Talent. You can also find him on Twitter: @TheWarForTalent

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.

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