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Five steps to align leadership with your brand values

By William A. Schiemann, Ph.D.

Metrus Institute, Towers Watson and PwC, among others, report increasing difficulty attracting and retaining the best talent. In some markets – such as the San Francisco Bay area, with three per cent or less unemployment – there is an adrenaline pumped competition for good talent. Many firms are increasingly looking to their employer brand to help them land talent.

However, are the employer brands real? Are your leaders living the brand? Is the culture disparate from the advertising? Take the faltering United Airlines which, on its website, espouses awareness and understanding of cultural issues while nurturing the company’s diverse talent, enriching the airline’s organizational culture and empowering employees. How are new hires or potential recruits likely to reconcile that with the ugly behaviours making headlines?

United is not alone. When such things happen, it points to a huge gap between espoused values and those actually in practice. The corporate playing field and graveyard are littered with such examples – Enron, Tyco, Oracle, YouTube and most recently Uber. When leaders behave differently than the promoted values, it creates cynicism and dysfunctional behaviours among employees.

Reversing long-standing policies often creates similar angst and employer brand confusion. When IBM recently cancelled a decades-long and highly promoted recruiting policy of remote work, employees were blindsided. They were given 30 days to move into a company office or decamp. This arbitrary new policy will affect thousands of employees who have built lives around the prior policy, investing in homes, schooling and spousal jobs. Many see it as a thinly veiled move by leadership to hatchet enormous labour costs after a string of poor quarterly financials. Do you think most IBM employees are feeling like its most important asset now?

Smart firms are building talent value propositions – what the company is offering and what they expect from employees – that are fitted to the times.

In contrast, leaders such as Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 Corporation, have a good track record of leading by example. One of WD-40’s core values is “owning it and passionately acting on it.” Ridge is consummate about answering emails quickly and responding in an honest and proactive way. And the result, according to Ridge, is that WD-40 has extremely high employee engagement and customer satisfaction scores on recent surveys. Why? He believes they have an aligned set of values and behaviours that everyone – CEO to floor sweeper – are expected to support.

Smart firms are building talent value propositions – what the company is offering and what they expect from employees – that are fitted to the times. Here are a few ideas that can help your leaders build firms that are talent magnets:

Identify four to five positive cultural differentiators of your business and align policies, processes and behaviours with those differentiators. For example, Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, does everything possible – liberal return policies, well-trained problem solving service reps and incentives to leave if employees do not feel aligned with the culture – to foster alignment with their high service-oriented customer promise.

Identify cultural characteristics that will be important to current and potential employees. What will be attractive to the talent pool out there? If you are a largely Millennial organization, such as Groupon, Lyft or a recent biopharma startup, then attributes such as flexibility, environmental focus and purpose will be crucial. Fulfillment is desired by all generations, so investments in growth and development are likely to be important.

Pick attributes that your top leaders can get behind. Will they be willing to walk the talk? One technical employee at a large communications company lamented being hired for innovation, but was given “Stone Age tools” to do his work.

Emerging employer brands should be tested. United Airlines should not have been as surprised as they were. Employee data from their employee surveys and other tools should have signaled a forthcoming problem, or they were not using readily available predictive analytics. Good analytics are allowing firms to test their talent value proposition – does it work? Is it leading to desired customer outcomes? Is it helping to retain employees?

Measure impact. Do the “right” employees stay and the “wrong” employees leave? Is there higher productivity? Are customers happier? Today, there are many ways to measure these things.

While these steps may sound simple, they require deep thinking about your business and culture. This is not dashed off in an afternoon. The most successful firms engage their employees, customers and suppliers in these discussions. The more diverse the input, the stronger the resulting employer brand will be. And the CEO and other senior leaders need to be engaged from the get-go. When everyone is on the same page, you can become a powerful talent magnet. n

William A. Schiemann, Ph.D., is the CEO of Metrus Group.

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