Rebooting Your Employer Brand
HR leaders at companies that struggle to show job candidates that they're exciting places to work can align rebranding with recruiting to attract talent.
By Carol Patton
Several years ago, Ten-X started positioning its business beyond an online marketplace for real-estate auctions. The California-based company, with offices in San Mateo and Irvine, sought to broaden its reach with a new internet platform to facilitate residential and commercial transactions.
"Our momentum and investments were in scaling this platform so we could empower everyone to buy and sell real estate online with confidence," says Chris Galy, chief people officer at Ten-X in San Mateo. "That was a very significant shift. Most real-estate transactions are done offline. It was about leveraging technology to drive more transparency in the industry and deeper collaboration between all parties involved."
During the last two years, HR was heavily involved with helping the company rebrand itself, Galy says, adding that this rebranding opportunity gave Ten-X the leverage it needed to tell its story and attract and acquire different talent needed to execute the transformation.
Companies may rebrand their image when launching new products or services. But some, especially those with hard-to-fill jobs, rebrand to make their companies appear more exciting to job candidates across generations. To change people's perceptions, HR professionals are aligning the internal and external brand with recruitment activities, encouraging job seekers to join their organization.
Tell the Truth
In the early stages of rebranding, HR at Ten-X trained about 130 employees to help lead the company through the process. Participants met with the CEO and HR for two days every quarter for 15 months to develop hard and soft skills -- such as data analytics, strategic communications and change management -- that would generate excitement and buy-in from co-workers about the new online platform and encourage them to promote it to friends, family and job seekers. HR then led similar workshops for the same group of employees the following year.
When the new effort -- a digital platform for real-estate sellers, buyers and brokers -- was rolled out in 2015 and 2016 to the company's 1,000 U.S. employees, senior executives held employee meetings at the company's offices in California, New York, Texas and Florida. Quarterly meetings were also videotaped to further explain the new platform, the company's changing mission, vision and goals and how the company is repositioning itself in the market.
"I loaned one of my top performers to marketing to be the project lead," says Galy, explaining that HR worked with marketing to launch the brand internally. "Some of that was to make sure we were staying as closely connected as possible. The person worked for marketing for about seven months and had a tremendous impact in getting HR all the way through the project."
The new brand was clearly communicated in-house via an internal, weekly TV program, the performance-management system, employee newsletters and other communication tools. On average, company leaders also conducted monthly roundtables with employees.
Since Ten-X was partly rebranding itself as being a tech-savvy organization, it revamped its static, bland careers page -- which Galy says had a jobs-search link hosted by an external applicant-tracking system that "turned away high-potential talent" -- into a more personalized, contemporary, design-driven experience. The company then worked with Portland, Ore.-based FINE Design to build a new website. The website remembers candidates' career interests every time they log on and sends them custom LinkedIn messages from the moment they click on a job posting. Job applicants are also emailed videos tailored to their career interests.
"We created an entire new story and talking points for managers and recruiters," says Galy, adding that the company's new slogan is: "Making the internet the most coveted address in real estate."
"We really refined our pitch to tell our story of, 'This is where the company is going, and do you want to be a part of helping us build that?' "
Many climbed aboard. Since the rebranding effort, he says, application submissions increased by 26 percent, turnover dropped 25 percent between 2015 and 2016, and Twitter and LinkedIn followers shot up by 95.3 percent and 56.9 percent, respectively.
"Candidates can sniff out if a recruiting pitch is misaligned with the reality of what working at your company is like way more today than ever before," Galy says. "The truth of what's underneath the talent brand has to be clear, unless you want to feel the pain once people get there and figure it out."
Reboot and Resuscitate
Some HR professionals skip surveying employees during rebranding.
Big mistake. Learning what employees think and believe is critical, says Allan Steinmetz, CEO of Inward Strategic Consulting, a global internal and external brand-consulting firm in Boston.
Find out what their image of the company is, he says. Can they articulate the new brand? What traits or characteristics do they associate with your rebrand and that of competitors? How do they differ? What image is not being addressed that you have the potential to fill? Is it doable?
"[HR] thinks sending out a newsletter or having an all-hands meeting is enough," says Steinmetz. "It's not. Develop the strategy, the internal communications program that shows how you're connecting the dots internally and externally, and communicating what employees may need to do differently."
Part of that process includes developing and delivering a fun, fresh narrative that excites employees and attracts needed talent, even those outside traditional recruiting channels. He says employers should also develop a brand ambassador program, which recruits employees who are passionate about brand values, endorse changing behavior, and provide feedback and peer-to-peer recognition for supporting the brand.
"They are evangelists of the brand," Steinmetz explains.
Several years ago, SME faced similar brand challenges as Ten-X. When the engineering, materials and applied-science consulting firm celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, it used the occasion to refresh its image in the field so it would improve its ability to attract talent and customers.
"We were saddled with this name -- Soil and Materials Engineers Inc. -- that didn't match our services and a logo that had been around forever," says Bob Rabeler, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at the Plymouth, Mich.-based company that employs 300 workers in six Midwestern states. "We surveyed staff and clients and got a lot of feedback for branding."
Their responses were quite varied. He says many wanted to change everything about the company's image while others didn't want to change a thing.
Still, the company hired a branding-consulting firm -- Rattleback in Columbus, Ohio -- to guide it through the elaborate branding process. It helped the company develop a cool look, energize employees who became brand ambassadors and informal recruiting agents and excite job candidates about working for SME, he says.
To back up its new image, the company invited clients and job candidates to special events throughout its anniversary year, Rabeler says. For example, one office organized an outing to a concert and buffet at a local stadium while another brought guests to an evening at the museum.
While Rabeler handpicked employees across all levels to serve on rebranding committees and solicited employee input about their thoughts, HR kept staff informed through emails and newsletters that accompanied employee paychecks while working with marketing to develop new recruiting materials.
"I saw a transformation in the workforce," he says. "It [increased] pride in employees' work and how they present everything we do."
He believes the company is "no longer stuck in a rut" because of the rebranding effort. Consider that the number of participants in its referral-bonus program jumped from nine in 2014 to 23 in 2017. Staff turnover decreased from 11 percent to 9 percent during the same time frame.
Headquartered in Morrisville, N.C., TBM Consulting Group -- a global-manufacturing and supply-chain consulting firm that supports 120 employees in offices on four continents -- also hired Rattleback in spring 2016 to help refine its image and recruit skilled candidates.
In the past, TBM CEO Bill Remy says, the company tried to be all things to all people.
"[We were] a little bit all over the map in terms of what we said we could do," he says. So TBM changed its external messaging to more clearly define its five service offerings, explain where it was headed and describe the various ways it helps clients.
As part of its branding effort, the company then launched a formal line of business as a TBM subsidiary to drive leadership solutions, which ended up representing 10 percent of its business last year.
"We had to get to five service offerings and be crisp about how we were going to serve the markets," he says.
Remy frequently held virtual and face-to-face leadership meetings to define and execute a strategic-action plan, refine messaging and create definitions for the company service offerings.
"We shared the good, the bad, the ugly, and the status of the branding and strategic-plan projects," he says.
Although the company doesn't have a dedicated HR department -- finance handles employee-benefit administration and payroll -- it still consulted with a retired senior vice president of HR who helps the company with HR matters like compensation management on an ongoing basis.
"He sat in on some of our branding meetings and helped us think about the change aspect," says Remy. "Sometimes HR people miss that there's always people who can't get past [change]. At some point, you have to draw the line and say, 'You either support it or move on from the company.' "
Don't Cut Corners
Fortunately, Remy says his nearly 20-year-old firm isn't challenged by employee recruiting or retention. But some STEM companies are and, thus, sacrifice alignment for creativity in hopes of attracting skilled talent. He says everyone in an organization must be aligned, understanding the reason behind the rebranding effort and its impact on the business.
"People want to understand what you do, how you do it and how well you live up to that," he says. "If you can demonstrate that pretty clearly, then you have a better ability to recruit."
Likewise, define how your rebrand will change your culture, or make sure it accurately reflects it, says Susan McLennan, a branding consultant and speaker in Toronto.
Either way, never overpromise. If your brand represents creativity but your workplace is traditional, new hires who thrive on innovation will likely quit "because expectation doesn't meet reality," she says.
Instead, make rebrands come alive. McLennan says HR can encourage employees to share their stories online, via videos or in newsletters, explaining how the organization's new values live within them and their department, and how they impact their community.
"Look for things that really resonate with people," says McLennan. "When you see people getting very excited around an idea, whether it's in a workshop or on the intranet, then you know you're onto something that resonates. [When recruiting], stick to those resonant ideas, not imposed ideas, because that's who you are or are aspiring to be."
And always keep in mind that no matter how creative or borderline crazy your recruitment efforts are, they will fail if your workplace doesn't reflect the rebrand or your workforce doesn't demonstrate its values.
"If your team can't live it," says McLennan, "your rebrand will be as effective as the hold message you listen to that says, 'Your call is important to us,' when everything the company is doing is saying, 'Actually, we couldn't care less about you but we're going through the motions.' "