AOL Has Guts. Do You?

We all know the story of the first day on the job, and things not seeming the same as they did in the interviews.

Is your advertised culture what it really is? It’s tough to compete for talent. Some companies try to be as hip and cool as their competitors, but are they really who they say they are?

Last month, I conducted a webinar with my colleague, Susan Amori, Senior Director, AOL Talent & AOL Cultural Ambassador Program. Susan and I spent an hour with our listeners, most of whom were recruiters. I shared my how-to approach on attracting and hiring employees who would best serve the brand. (See my book, The Brandful Workforce for more info on that.) Susan chimed in with specific examples from AOL.

My favorite example from Susan was how AOL organizes informal events for employees to bring in friends and potential future employees. Being a content company, it aligns with the AOL brand to attract thought-provoking speakers and draw in top talent. These events create introductions and comfortable peeks into the AOL culture, for perspective workers. The AOL team maintains a contact list of everyone who attends their events and later can tap into that resource in their hiring efforts. According to the brandful workforce approach, this program simultaneously supports their business and their employees.

Later on in the webinar, I spoke about the importance of employee involvement in the continued evolution of the brand. Selecting employees who want to participate in shaping the future of the company is a win-win for any company and especially AOL. That’s when Susan mentioned the AOL hackathons. These are specific days in which employees are encouraged to think up and submit new ideas and collaborate across the company. If you don’t have this kind of program, you should think about starting one. Your employees may be sitting on your next big product or new service, and you don’t even know it.

But back to the employee promise.

Susan did something following our webinar that many corporate executives don’t have the guts to do. She put the AOL employee promise to the test. She asked her team to tell her the AOL employee promise to see if it was in fact what she thought it was. An employee promise is like a brand in a certain sense – you have one whether or not you know what it is. It’s a perception.

An employee promise answers questions like: “Why am working here?” What am I getting and what am I giving here?” or “Why should I join?” or “Why should I leave?”

Here’s how the test went according to Susan:

The experiment with our recruiting team was quite interesting. I asked them just to jot down their personal view of our employee promise. The top 6 consistent bullets that came up were summarized as follows:
• The opportunity to work in a great culture (Culture)
• The opportunity to work with smart, passionate and dedicated employees (People)
• You will have the freedom to be creative and create change (Culture)
• You will have the opportunity to grow your skills and manage your career with support from leaders and AOL University (Development)
• You will have the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technologies (Exposure/Tech)
• You will have the opportunity to get involved with community/volunteer initiatives to help others (Volunteerism)

Compare this to what I thought our employee promise was:
• Fast-paced, agile business – you will never be bored here (Business)
• Work with global brands that have tremendous reach and continue to grow (Business)
• Encouragement and support to help others – especially at the local community level (Volunteerism)
• Strong emphasis on personal wellness – ‘whole’ person wellness, not just fitness and nutrition (Wellness/Benefits)
• Company values that are ingrained throughout the business – and reinforced through recognition programs (Culture)
• Fun, creative working environment – you get back as much as you give (Culture)
• Structured training and leadership development programs – with special focus on training for people managers (Development)

This was just a quick experiment that Susan was interested in running to see if her team was on the same page. Any organization dedicated to building and sustaining a brandful workforce needs this kind of guts. And I mean the guts to continually check in to see if what you advertise is really happening within your organization. And if it’s not, do something about it. It helps with authenticity and sustainability of the culture and brand.

Yes, it’s sometimes easier not to ask any questions and plow full steam ahead. Of course, you risk having something unforeseen thrown in your path that you could have avoided, if you’d only asked. You might even be surprised at much more value your workforce can bring to your business in addition to their daily responsibilities. If you decide to do a similar experiment with your team, post it here. I’m sure Susan would love to see results from other organizations. And so would I.

Watch the webinar referenced above. See more brandful workforce blogs.

I Quit!

A long time ago, it was rare for someone to quit. People stayed in the same job for years and years, and even more years, until retirement or death, whichever came first. Today, the opposite is true. Change is so rapid that it’s hard to predict the future of any organization, let alone job or role.  So when I stumbled across this video, I thought: “Ah, a new way to say ‘Adios’ to your boss.” Quite creative, especially given the fact that the employer was a video production company…not surprising that the employee’s video of her quitting, went viral immediately. Maybe her boss was  happy that she finally produced a viral video, however maybe he or she wasn’t anticipating it would be her goodbye video that would get the most number of views.

But not everybody quits. Some leave unwillingly. Like the employee who was fired by the AOL Chief during a recorded staff meeting. She was taping the internal conversation, a big “no-no” if you listen to the recording, which shouldn’t have been recorded in the first place. What a way to go, publicly in front of the entire company and then later publicized to the world.

Some folks quit, but go about it in the wrong way, like the JetBlue flight attendant, who illegally deployed a slide. At the end of his flight, he simply slid down the slide and attempted to leave…for good.

Some folks do it the right way. Well at least, it is well-intended, like the Goodwill employee who was just trying to help folks pay for the merchandise by reducing the prices. The teenage employee was only wanting to help and do “good” as suggested by the name of his employer. But Goodwill didn’t see it that way, fired him and pressed charges, according to the news story.

How does this relate to our topic of The Brandful Workforce- which is a workforce that promotes the brand of the organization? In all of the cases above and in most employee departures, it is critical to keep in mind that the brand of the organization, that the employee leaves behind, continues. And it continues with or without that employee. It is incumbent upon every organization to ensure that every departure can reflect the brand integrity – and if it doesn’t, the organization should take a good look at itself. For more about brandful, read my other posts.