Employee Communications Research + Strategy

Are You Still Not Focused on Your Most Important Audience?

By Kim Mackley


Wait, who?

Early last century, a few of our retailer friends coined the common phrase, “the customer is always right.” As marketers, we then spent the subsequent 100 years meticulously zeroing in on how to communicate just that – how much we value and understand you, o’ customer. And collectively, in my very humble opinion, we do a pretty stellar job.

But what if the chase for perfection in customer interaction has given us a tunnel vision that we’re just beginning to see beyond? What stakeholders have we put on the communications backburner as we build our enterprise empires of customer excellence?

Employees!

It isn’t breaking news to anyone that “employees are our greatest assets” and “good businesses start with good people.” A few decades after John Wanamaker and Marshall Field figured out how customers wanted to be treated, the likes of Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch realized that “hey – we gotta treat our people right too.” (Stay tuned for my future blog on representation in business school curriculum.)

We started thinking about employees in terms of human capital and created the tradition that teased out over almost three generations of “good business” not only translating to the bottom line but the fundamental belief of keeping and investing in good people.

Cool, but I’m doing this already!

Human capital management! Leadership vision! EQ! HR buzzwords! If you are reading this post and don’t think you’re doing right by employees in some way already, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. I fully release you from the trouble of reading on.

Likely though, employee relations have been on your company’s collective radar in some capacity for a very long time and has R-E-A-L-L-Y been front and center circa 2020. Insert your own platitudes here for The Future of Work, The Great Resignation, and A Remote-First Environment. These things have galvanized into new fundamentals: 1) employees are a major brand asset, and 2) a company’s employer brand – including its mission and vision – must be crystal clear to be carried out and on.

But are you really doing it?

If these two fundamental ideas about employees are true, then I fear we’ve been asleep at the wheel (metaphorically, not musically) in terms of concentrated, orchestrated messaging to this group.

Why don’t we typically see employer branding as a priority beyond internal communications, with its own positioning framework, messaging, and channel strategy? Is it because we’re actually all really horrible people who don’t care? Of course, not! My guess is we know we should do more, and we want to do more. Still, the articulation of building an employer brand is stuck in the Bermuda triangle that exists between the C-suite, HR, and marketing.

Here’s where to start with your employer branding strategy.

How do we navigate towards the highest and best vision you want for employees, then? Thoughtfully, with purpose, data, and buy-in. These are the common themes I’ve seen work successfully time and again when helping organizations develop their employer branding programs. In more practical terms:

Own it, but collaborate

Someone has to decide to get out of the Bermuda triangle, and a LOT of people have to be rowing in the same direction to solidify an employer brand (I’ll end all nautical metaphors now). Have those conversations about resource capacity, reporting structure, goals, and responsibility lanes early. Ideally, you’ll want a cross-functioning team across at least HR and marketing with a mix of senior and support staff.

Ask employees, and then listen

You’ve got research participants at the ready; take advantage of it! Ask employees what they love, what they don’t, what makes them stay, and what would make them want to leave. If you aren’t ready to hear all that firsthand or don’t think you’d get honest answers – call me, I’ll do it! Third-party partners are exceptionally helpful for this type of objective feedback gathering.

Be aspirational but realistic

You’re going to uncover some challenges. Most likely, many won’t even surprise you. Don’t cover these up. Instead, find the opportunity to acknowledge them as a group and move through or around them.

Start small, execute big

Every book starts with a word! Consider writing an Employee Value Proposition as your first big deliverable. Collaboratively developing this statement will clarify the vision while getting crucial alignment. Then, figure out how to extrapolate and amplify it. 

The formula for building a strong employer brand isn’t complicated and is more scalable than you may think. Initiating and nurturing this type of work is crucial to business success. Are you ready to get started?