Bad Brands Can’t Recruit, Good Brands Can

Last week, I interviewed Larry Hernandez – no ordinary recruiter. Larry has worked at some amazing brands that anyone would want to recruit for (regardless of whether you work there): Zappos, USAA and now Rackspace. I wanted to get his thoughts on brandful recruiting. Below is part of our conversation. It was too long to include everything, but here is one of my favorite quotes from Larry:

When you are in the business of recruiting great people and you don’t have a positive brand you are left with a purely transactional relationship.


Julia: Larry, you’ve recruited for some top brands, describe your experience as a recruiter for each company, including the similarities and differences.

Larry: All three do a really good job of indoctrinating employees with a strong orientation program (1 -4 weeks) before reporting to your team. Getting a strong foundation in core values, company history, basic company org chart, along with leaders/founders making an appearance is a great way to start with a new employer. This may not sound like a big deal but you would be surprised how many employers just drop new employees into teams on day one. (Julia as an aside: Any of you do this?)

USAA – When I think of USAA a couple of things come to mind. Slow and deliberate. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but when you combine military traditions with insurance and banking you get a very conservative culture that is about as averse to risk and change as they come. .

Because USAA must comply with OFCCP guidelines, recruiting is very cumbersome and process oriented. There are a lot of hard working and amazing people in the talent acquisition team but jumping through the OFCCP’s hoops is not easy on any process. That being said, no other organization takes their members (customers) to heart more than USAA.

Zappos – Now take everything I said about USAA and turn it upside down. Zappos has what I call a “West Coast” feel to it. “Zappos is that crazy Aunt you have that let’s you stay up late and eat cake for dinner.”

Core Values are engrained into every employee in the four-week new hire orientation/training program. Volumes have been written about their commitment to customer service and culture so I won’t go in depth. I will say that Zappos is the only company I know that makes every employee learn, train, and actually work as a customer service rep with live customers for one to two weeks out of the initial 4 week training.

The company and employees have a very warm heart. I’m not trying to get mushy but people at Zappos really care about you as a person. Zappos is a “touchy feely” kind of place where people of all walks of life can just be themselves.

With that being said, everything comes at a price. Getting things done sometimes comes second to a myriad of events, parties, and miscelaneous madness, which can make professional development a challenge.

Rackspace – I see Rackspace as the middle child of these three. From the outside Rackspace and Zappos look a lot alike but they function differently. Rackspace has a strong sales culture and what I mean is that they are results oriented. “Play hard as soon as your work is done” is how I see it at Rackspace.

2) Does a great brand help you recruit? If so, how?

Oh yes, a strong brand goes a long way. From a recruiting standpoint, all three companies are flooded with applications and all three hire about 1-3% of the people that apply.

3) Why did you choose to become a recruiter at each one of these companies?

Everyone gets to a point when they want to be a part of something bigger and better. If you are good at what you do, you might as well do it some place that is known for an amazing culture (brand).

4) Do you believe it’s important to hire folks that are behind the brand? Why or why not?

It is the most important thing! It is hard to get consistent engagement from people if they are not behind the brand.

5) Should every company do it? Why or why not?

Every company has a brand. Some just decide to own it. What’s left when you have a bad brand? When you are in the business of recruiting great people and you don’t have a positive brand you are left with a purely transactional relationship.

In every industry there is a food chain for talent. It is very hard to get into these three companies (USAA, Zappos, & Rackspace) so people hone their skills and start building a solid reputation at other companies with weaker brands and work there way up the food chain.

Unfortunately, the way the majority of employers build their compensation models, the only way for “A” players to get market value is to move up that food chain of employers.

6) How do you think companies can identify folks that are behind the brand?

First and foremost it is important to close the gap between your external brand and internal brand. Since brand and culture are living things that are always changing, knowing and communicating the current state of your internal brand to potential employees is key. It doesn’t do any good to recruit and hire people under a false pretense.

Referrals from existing employee is nice since people who know the internal brand tend to filter out any mismatches before refering them.

We (recruiters) listen for traces of brand and culture matches through the recruiting process.

7) What are some of the positive outcomes of hiring brandful candidates?

If someone you are trying to recruit already respects and admires the brand you represent, half the battle is won.

Any downside?

It’s funny you asked. We use words like Brand (to be stamped or branded) and Culture (shares same Latin root as cult – cultus) to describe what we associate and experience with these companies. three of these amazing organizations get criticized for being “cultish” and that can turn people off.

8) What do you think the future holds for recruitment as it pertains to a brandful company?

If your organization doesn’t already have dedicated resources to communicate the employer brand as we speak, they are behind in the war for talent. The real question is what do companies with bad brands do?

Check out Larry’s blog and more about brandful recruiting in my book, The Brandful Workforce: How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand. Read more Brandful posts.

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.

Even Google Is Stumped

In a recent article Google admitted that it could not predict who would be a good hire and who would fail. I’m not sure that anyone has figured this out and it’s certainly not due to lacking analytical capability.

I believe the starting point for figuring out who will succeed in your organization has to start with this question: What kind of an employee do you need to drive your organization’s success? If you don’t know the answer to this, then any analysis you conduct will go in circles. According to my brandful workforce roadmap which helps organizations build a workforce of brand promoters, the entire employee strategy must be driven by a successful business model. Under this method, there is no organization that boasts of having the “best” talent, yet instead they can boast of having a good match for what it is they need to accomplish.

For more information on Google’s point of view, click here to read the article. Or please send me your comments and join in the discussion.

Brandful Recruiting

I just got back from Miami where I spoke to a great group of recruiters at TMA’s Strategic Recruiting Summit. There were some fantastic companies represented like USAA, Kellogg’s (who both recruit their customers as potential employees), Hilton Grand Vacations, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Gate Gourmet, AbbVie, McKesson and Kaiser Permanente. I was glad to see that many of the organizations are focusing on recruiting as part of their overall brand strategy (their candidate experience reflects on their brand- especially when the folks don’t get the job- they can continue to like the products and services and remain a customer), however I did see some unfair challenges that recruiters face – because some of the c-suite still don’t get it. Why should recruiters be boxed into an “employer brand?” Aren’t they, along with every single employee, part of the larger brand?  (Side note:  a brand is simply what folks say about you behind closed doors. It can pertain to an organization as a whole, a specific product, a person or a group of people.)  In our transparent world, can you really separate the employer brand from the consumer brand anymore? Should it be up to the recruiter to figure out the workforce brand and recruit toward that? Why are organizations asking their employees to describe their work environment and help the company figure out their employer brand? I don’t get it.

I’d like to see the c-suite take more of a lead in not just figuring out the employer brand, but shaping it into what it should be. And what it should be, is aligned with the business model and customer promise. They need to ask themselves: “What kind of employee do we need working here that can delight our customers and fulfill our business model?” Once they figure that out, then the recruiters can more successfully find the right kind of folks to charge the company forward.

But don’t forget about the brand. I asked the audience how many of them were looking for a “brand match” while recruiting. (That is- someone who, in addition to having the right skill set and experience, is also passionate about the particular services or products that they offer.) Many recruiters raised their hands. I didn’t get the chance to find out how they were doing it, but I did hear a great story from Tomya at Sloan-Kettering.  She explained that they ask every single candidate whether they’d feel comfortable being in the hospital setting around cancer patients. If not, they don’t get hired. Being one of the best (if not the best) cancer centers in the world, they are ensuring that all of their employees care about their cause. Tomya suggested an accountant could choose to be an accountant at any type of organization. If she wants to be an accountant at Sloan-Kettering, she needed to care about the services they deliver and want to be a part of it. No wonder, employee engagement is at the top of the charts at Sloan-Kettering.

During my presentation, I suggested the following steps to implement a brandful recruiting strategy:

  • hire from your customer base
  • hire folks with a demonstrated passion for your product or service
  • hire folks with a passion for your mission or cause (could come from nonprofits)
  • hire folks who are excited to use your brand perks (ie. discounts)

I mentioned a comment made to me while I was shopping at Trader Joe’s. The store clerk said to me: “I spend my entire paycheck here!”  That’s when you know you have a brandful employee.

Thanks for reading my blog. If this is your first time on my site, please look around at my other posts and events, and join in the discussion. Catch you later!

ClearVision Optical – Brandful Example

My hunt for brandful employees -employees who promote the brand of the organization- continues! This time, I found a fantastic video – 100% authentic- from the interns at ClearVision Optical. They sing “Hire Me Maybe,”a parody inspired by Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me, Maybe.” Watch it here and please answer me: What intern wouldn’t want to work at this company?

If this is your first time on my blog, welcome to the Brandful Workforce – where employees work FOR the brand, rather than against it. The world of branding is changing, in a big way, and the voice of the employees is more crucial than ever before. Learn more about how to build a brandful workforce or become part of one, in my new book – The Brandful Workforce.

Overview of Brandful™ Workforce

A workforce can work “for” or “against” the brand. A brandful™ workforce charges forward FOR the brand. There are two significant global changes that support the call to action for organizations to consider early adoption of building a brandful™ workforce:

1.   The end of organizational control over brand.

With the rise in social media and access to information, individuals are able to have greater impact, both positively and negatively on organizations. Social media empowers more to participate in the brand conversation. It creates greater pressure for organizations to be transparent about their products, services, operations, mission, and strategy.

2.   Fierce local and global competition.

Organizations are forced to continually re-examine their approach and must act smarter than ever before to sustain an advantage. One of the most under-leveraged assets in any organization is the workforce. It can no longer be seen as an expense in terms of wages and benefits. If viewed strategically, the employees of any size organization (private, public, nonprofit or governmental) could be a critical factor for organizational success.

Is your organization fully leveraging your people to create, re-invent, grow and sustain your brand? The answer most likely is no. Is it possible to have employees who genuinely and truly love the products and services they help deliver? The answer is yes and here’s how you can get started.

First, you must have a successful business model. No employee is going to be interested in promoting an organization that is going down the tubes.  You may think this is obvious however it amazes me how many organizations, because of the departmental silos, overlook this point. For example, a leader in one part of the organization such as Corporate Communications, Human Resources or Marketing, may hear the buzz that employees should be more involved in the brand, so they skip immediately to how to involve them, without considering the state of the business. Have you ever stopped to think how the internal operations might look differently if the business model is not working? Creating, evolving and sustaining a successful business model can be difficult, particularly because of a fast- evolving, globally shrinking competitive landscape. However, this basic fundamental step is a “must-have” for building a brandful™ workforce.

Part of the business model is also a “call to action” or a greater purpose that the organization is fulfilling. When I was at JetBlue, it was “bringing humanity back to air travel.” We weren’t just transporting people from point A to point B but there was a higher purpose. Employees, who truly promote the product or service of an organization, and act as individual owners of the organization, need an emotional connection or an inspiration, if they are going to be brandful™.

Second, you need a clear and executable customer promise and employee promise. These promises answer the question: What am I promising to deliver to my customer/employee in exchange for what my customer/employee give me? It’s kind of like matchmaking, where the organization is looking for a long-term relationship with the right customer match and the right employee match. Both customers and employees have expectations that go hand-in-hand. Employees need to know the customer expectations so they stand a chance to deliver on these – or even better- delight! They also need to know what’s expected of them and what they get in return, so that it matches what they can/want to do and what they want to get out of it. Simultaneously, with so many choices of products and services, customers need to know what they are getting for the price they pay, so they can make a decision. Most organizations have defined customer promises, however the majority do not have clear employee promises and thus would not be well-positioned to have brandful employees.  If the mindset is: “anyone can work here in exchange for a paycheck” (ie. There is no employee promise), then you are not fully participating in the matchmaking that needs to take place.

Third, all of the items above must be executed according to plan, aligned and integrated. Basically, your organization needs to walk the talk, be genuine and run a successful and inspirational operation. If there are flaws with your execution, it may be simple to assess, however you can always use data analysis to better pinpoint the hot spots. I’m a big fan of surveys, however they must ask the right questions and they need to be implemented with the assistance of an organizational psychologist who has serious expertise in surveys and human behavior.

It sounds so simple, yet most organizations do not pass these fundamentals. If you try to build a brandful workforce without these, you will build a workforce that bashes your brand, instead of promotes it.  I met someone in the business of training employees on how to blog – to promote the company.  My question is: “What if the employees hate the company’s product?” They will be trained in how to spread the word, but not in a good way.

Once you pass the fundamentals, then we can consider involving employees in the brand…because they now have something to get excited about. There are several areas in which they should be organically involved such as corporate citizenship, communications, celebrations, recruiting other brandful employees, and other employee programs.  The idea here is that nothing is mandatory and there are no incentives (carrots). Employees, at this point, get involved because they are already genuinely passionate….for real.

What if my workforce really doesn’t care about the products or services?  You have to start somewhere. Have a “brandful” recruiting platform so at least you can start brining in new folks who are a true match to your employee promise and really are passionate about your brand. Then, work to change or transition the current folks to better organizational matches – where they can be brandful. If done correctly, they will thank you for it.