Internal Brand vs Employee Experience… What’s the Difference?

I had the privilege of speaking at the HR Leaders Summit in Toronto on November 17th where I talked about, “How to Align Your Employer Brand from the Inside Out”. I uploaded the presentation to Slideshare and you can view the presentation below. It was the closing session and I attempted to tie the entire conference together into what I think is the most important thing HR can do in any organization today. That is drive employee engagement.

I talked about the importance of understanding the business landscape we find ourselves in and how it impacts our workplaces – proliferation of technology, access to talent from all 4 corners of the globe, work/life blending, employee generations, the changing physical office space, and many others. You can’t do much in the area of HR and Recruitment if you don’t know anything about the playing field you find yourself in.

I then talked about external employer branding – the perception of an organization as a great place to work in the eyes of talent prospects, customers and the general public. Note that many organizations only focus on the external audience, which is crucially important, but will only achieve the single goal of attracting better talent. What about engagement and retention? It’s kind of like throwing darts in the dark. You may hit the bulls-eye or come close, but likely you won’t. Awesome external brands that I love are Westjet Airlines, Adidas, Nurse Next Door, JOEY Restaurants and Airbnb. I can personally relate to everything they communicate externally, whether by video, social media, careers site, the news, etc… Below is my favourite employer brand video of all-time, which is by Adidas. Note that every single person in the video are actual employees.

I then told a little story from about a decade ago when I was a young and naive HR professional working inside a really REALLY big organization. They rolled out an employer brand campaign that focused entirely on the external audience, and completely ignored the most important audience, their employees. The brand promise they wanted to deliver completely misaligned with the internal realities. Long story short, the impact was catastrophic as the couple million dollars they spent on the expensive agency literally went down the drain in a big hurry. The long-term effect was a significant increase in turnover, employee engagement plummeted, share prices plummeted… and then the recession hit.

The above example is a classic case of the external brand promise over-exaggerating what it’s really like to work in the company. You could even call it lip-service. All lipstick but the walls of the foundation are crumbling. These walls symbolically represent the employee experience, which is everything about how an employee feels while working at a particular organization. I then argued that the employee experience is another way of saying “internal brand”. What’s the difference? Absolutely nothing. We in the HR world love coining new terms of the sake of coining new terms. It just causes more confusion. I talked about the employee experience life-cycle and its phases. You can easily go to Google and enter the search term, “employee experience life-cycle” and you will get thousands of slightly different variations. It doesn’t matter what you use or prefer. The point is that everything an organization does impacts the employee experience – communication, compensation, performance, recruitment, talent management, recognition, and the list goes on.

I then tied internal brand and external brand together and presented a model for building an effective employer brand strategy. This encompasses every single audience, both inside and outside the organization, and influences the 3 key pillars of the employee experience: attraction, engagement and retention. If you get all 3 of these areas right you likely work for a highly successful organization.

After talking about the model I made a statement that some may perceive to be controversial, but we love controversy don’t we? I said, “We Suck at Marketing”. The “we” means HR professionals. Sure some of us are great at marketing but the majority are not. What’s the logical solution? Be awesome friends with Marketing and leverage their expertise in marketing, branding, communications and design. You likely will be met with some resistance — “well, we don’t have time for that because we so focused on the products and lines of business”. What would you respond with? You simply say,

“there’s a positive correlation between the employee experience and the customer experience. This means our company will be more successful from both top and bottom line perspectives, which will make YOU Marketing look awesome”.

I then talked about 3 highly successful and very different organizations who are absolutely rocking it both internally and externally — Adidas, Westjet and IndustryBuilt. They simply walk the talk, and that’s why they’ve been so successful.

Finally, what’s your HR technology stack? You can’t compete in this market without leveraging the right technology tools. I focused on 5 bucket areas: Recruiting & HRIS, Agile Performance, Collaboration, Engagement & Recognition and Social Learning. Remember what I said about understanding the business landscape you play in? Well this is where leveraging tech comes in handy. You simply cannot scale and compete in this highly competitive market without technology helping you drive an awesome employee experience.

At the end of the day let your employees tell their candid and real stories to your external audiences, and let Marketing help you.

HR Leaders Summit Closing Presentation

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