Engage your Culture for a Strong Employer Brand

Employee Engagement, Corporate Culture, and Employer Brand

It may seem like a lot of topics to try and cover all at once, but the simple fact is that you can’t have one without the other. You can’t talk about corporate culture without addressing employee engagement, and you certainly can’t have a good (and realistic) employer brand without a defined, living breathing corporate culture.

Let’s start with a word about corporate culture. “You have one.” PERIOD. Whether you want one or not, whether you define it or not, whether you work towards building it or not, you do have a corporate culture. In many companies, the culture is not at all what they may define it to be. A corporate culture is not a defined set of values, vision statements, and goals. A corporate culture is a result. It is a result of day to day actions that affect the lives of the company’s employees, customers, and share holders. If the company’s day to day actions do not match the defined values and vision, then your corporate culture is not what you think it is. If the company’s day to day actions, as demonstrated by everyone  in your organization, affect employees, customers, or shareholders in a negative way, then you have a negative corporate culture regardless of the message you may be giving.

Now, because you have a corporate culture, you also have an employer brand, again, whether you like it or not, want it or not. People talk; and when people talk, perceptions are formed. Perception is everything when it comes to employer brand. Your employer brand is not what marketing says about you, it isn’t the volleyball court next to the building, it isn’t your flex benefits, and it isn’t “beer-cart Friday.” Your employer brand is what people think about you as an employer; how they will be treated as an employee; and where their career can go with your company. What you actually do, how you act every day, how you treat your employees in meaningful ways, and how you treat your customers will override the marketing messages every time. In the end, truth always wins. Worse yet, if you sell a culture that does not really exist, you will brand yourself as dishonest.

Having a manager that buys everyone pizza every Tuesday doesn’t come close to compensating for the fact that she or he yells at people in meetings, publicly shames them for not reaching goals, or any of the other myriad of bad habits some managers do. Even good compensation is not enough to make up for always being assigned the mundane tasks and never being able to really contribute and grow in your career. A pat on the back and a “Thanks for all the hard work” does not mean much at all if you feel like your career is going nowhere. Engagement and therefore your corporate culture and ultimately your employer brand are shaped by how your employees feel they are treated, what the team atmosphere is, and what they will be able to accomplish with their career.

People talk and news travels fast. With social media and sites like www.glassdoor.com, news travels faster than ever; and perceptions can be changed from good to bad in short order. Changing them from bad to good will definitely take longer.

To get started, we can look to the leadership of the late Stephen Covey and his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” All of the habits apply to this situation and should be followed, but a few are more critical.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind. This requires a lot of forethought, research, and deep introspection. Think about what is really meaningful, what do you want your culture to be (and therefore employer brand?) What will mean most to the people you work with everyday and help them to feel engaged? What will be meaningful and resonate well with your customers? What is realistically achievable and will impact and improve long term revenue and therefore be meaningful to shareholders? (Obviously a great culture that bankrupts a company is no solution.)

So how do you get to where you want to be? You start at the beginning of course, and that means Covey’s Habit 3: Put First things First. If you want to get anywhere, you have to know where you are. In this case it means start with employee engagement, dig deep to understand where it is at AND what caused it to be where it is.

The Human Resources Leadership Council (HRLC) defines employee engagement as “commitment to job, manager, team, and organization, which drives effort and intent to stay, resulting in improved performance and retention.” This type of engagement is what ultimately defines the realistic corporate culture. A company may define its culture as one that is a fun place to work where they are committed to their employees; however, if employee engagement is lacking, the true culture does not match the defined one. The HRLC goes on to state that “The right organizational culture can drive consistent, relevant behaviors, boost employee discretionary effort by up to 30%, and improve intent to stay by up to 38%”

Living the right cultural values drives employee engagement, employee engagement defines the true company culture, and the true culture defines your employer brand. You employer brand ultimately affects your ability to attract the right talent, the right talent are those persons that will live your cultural values, and so the cycle continues.

If you want to affect positive change in anything, you must do root cause analysis to understand what made it the way it is today. If you understand the problem, you can set priorities for what needs to be done first, and then develop and execute on long term action plans. I say long term because affecting change on a large scale will take time. There are no shortcuts. A deliberately planned and executed cultural shift has to be the combination of a multitude of short term and long term goals and action plans.

Covey’s Habits 4 and 5 will also have to come into play. “Think Win-Win” and “Seek first to Understand, Then to be Understood.” What is meaningful to employees, customers, and shareholders? What will it take for everybody to win? Understand that before setting out your plan and looking to be understood.

LinkedIn’s Employer Brand Handbook states: “Listen Up! Listen to your employees and candidates, and listen well. Ask questions. Gather facts, opinions, and stories - the building blocks of your brand. Put aside your own biases about what you should hear, and seek to understand their views. Before you talk to your talent, walk in their shoes to experience your employer brand as they do.” This is Habit 5, understand before you ask to be understood.

We can also look to Daniel Pink’s book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” as both inspiration and insight into what is truly meaningful to people and can therefore influence engagement. Dan Pink discusses the three elements of motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose and uses clear research to validate his message that money is not always (or not even often) that which is most meaningful to people. This is good news for those that think working on employee engagement and culture is an expensive problem. It isn’t. It has far more to do with personal satisfaction and accomplishment than anything else. This fits well with the HRLC’s message about which engagement drivers are most important. Those that focus on self direction (Autonomy), employee growth (Mastery) and demonstrating the connection between the employee’s role and the company strategy (Purpose) far outweigh more social drivers such as company celebrations, social events, and even work sponsored volunteer activities.

That isn’t to say that social drivers are not important, they are; but again, first things first. Make sure the key drivers are firmly in place before focusing on the more social elements. If the key elements are in place, social events and company sponsored volunteering can add great value and cement employee engagement further. They can also give employees an even stronger sense of purpose and belief in company values.

So let’s go back to the beginning. It starts with LEADERSHIP. If company leadership, from the top down, does not buy into the need to improve employee engagement, corporate culture, and employer brand, you are doomed to fail. Engagement, Culture, and Brand all exist whether you choose for them to or not. Jim Collins author of “Good to Great” and “Built to Last” stated that “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.” If this is true, then great morale (and therefore engagement), great culture, and great brand must be driven by choice and self discipline. This means attention and focus, not apathy; conscious effort and passion for change, not indifference. To affect change, leadership must face the truth about what is, have a vision for what could be, and a passion for getting there.

We can all recall the powerful scene in “A Few Good Men” where Jack Nicholson screams “You can’t handle the truth!” So let’s take another line from LinkedIn’s Employer Brand Playbook. “Handle the truth. If you learn something unfavorable, address it.” People often employ defensive postures and mechanisms when confronted with ugly truths. They want to feel that things are good, that they are successful, but this can be detrimental to the improvement process. Whether things are bad, or good, or somewhere in the middle, if you want to affect positive change, don’t just face the truths, actively seek them out.

Since corporate culture is tied to corporate values, there is another quote from Collins that is highly applicable. “It is not the content of a company’s values that correlates with performance, but the strength of conviction with which it holds those values, whatever they might be.” If you do not define and then live your culture and values, there is nothing for you to hold to through difficult periods. Your morale, level of engagement, culture, and brand will be defined by circumstance and economic condition. The true measure of leadership is evident when times are tough, not when times are easy.

To wrap this up, start at the beginning, do your research, employee survey’s, talk to people one on one, do customer survey’s, and wherever possible, talk to external people that you want to reach with your brand. Understand where you are and where you want to be. Paint the realistic picture. Present your findings to the executive staff again and again until the message sinks in and sticks. The HR Leadership Council has a lot of great information and resources that can help any company through the process.

Depending on where you are, and where you want to be, the action plan will always differ. It may mean manager training, employee training, leadership training. You may need to build programs to strengthen internal communications, create policies and programs for career development and internal hiring practices. You may need to create university and college programs to bring in more new graduates, or you may need to amplify your marketing messages both internally and externally. There is no fixed formula because every company will be starting from a different place. Knowing what that place is and the place you want to be must be the starting point to affecting positive change.

The conviction in your cause, the discipline to keep working at it even against the odds, the passion for believing it greatness – for what could be; these are the keys that will sustain you in your efforts.


Stephen Covey - www.stephencovey.com
Daniel Pink - www.danpink.com
Check out the video: RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us
Jim Collins - www.jimcollins.com
LinkedIn Employer Brand Playbook - http://talent.linkedin.com/employerbrandbook/
HR Leadership Council - www.hrleadershipcouncil.com

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