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.

Companies Should Be Clear On What They Are Not

When was the last time you had an interview or heard about an interview in which the employer highlighted what they are NOT? The usual pitch is what they offer in terms of benefits, pay, perks and all the great enticing things you would expect when a company is trying to whoo you over. How would you react in an interview in which the recruiter or hiring manager told you specifically what you should NOT expect?  Would you be more inclined or less inclined to be interested in the position? Maybe it would depend on the details. At any rate, I believe it would help employers and employees make the right employment decision, whichever side of the table you are on.

Sometimes, companies forget that hiring the wrong folks can be more damaging than not hiring any folks at all.  One way to prevent this, especially when we are talking about the brand (internal and external), is to be completely open about who you are, as well as who you are not. I recently saw that Ikea communicates in their recruitment efforts: “leave your ego at the door.” They specify that they don’t have tolerance for anyone with a big ego, as teamwork and humility is part of their success. Think about your organization and what you can relay to potential candidates that would help you prevent hiring the wrong employees. Send me a note and let me know or post your comments here.

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.