A company's brand is only as good as its perception in the market. And the same goes for an employer brand. This week my former employer, Marriott International, moved up to #57 on Fortune's Best Places to Work (#1 in companies with more than 65,000 employees). And Sainsbury's, a UK grocery store, promotes being the "first ever food retailer to be awarded a gold accreditation from 'Investors in People'." And my cousin, a junior in college, told me her professor was handing out these lists in class for internship and job seekers. Don't get me started on lists. Instead, I'd rather talk about action.
Lists are great but to really know a brand and know an employer you need to see it in action. For Sainsbury's for example, the gold accreditation is one thing, but what matters is how the training, support and efforts employers make manifest in the living brand. Like with Sainsbury's Chris King who responded so cheekily (and lovely) to a young child's letter:
(Full story and bigger image here.) Note the store manager included his age (27 and 1/3). Love that. Sure, Sainsbury's has a strong commitment to its employees and actually details its progress online. But the real evidence is in actual manifestation of the brand by the employees. Are they acting the brand? Or are they the brand? Chris is.
I'm always looking for those living examples of the brand. And tonight, I saw it again in another Fortune Top 100 regular--the Container Store. Man, do I love the Container Store. A few years ago, we lived in a condo in the city ABOVE a Container Store. It was a small condo, but I seriously contained everything I possibly could. There was nothing left to contain.
Now we're in a bigger house. And since I have things to contain again, I made my way back to the Container Store in Arlington, VA, and picked up a few things, including a bookcase. I went back to my car and headed home. Once home, I opened the trunk and...no bookcase. Two sets of golf clubs mind you, but no bookcase. I got back in the car, retraced my steps back to where I thought I might have lost it. Again, no bookcase.
So while my better half drives all the way back to the Container Store (he volunteered, bless him), I call to see if maybe I never put it in my trunk. Maybe I rested it on the sidewalk and someone found it and returned it? Marnie answers the phone, and I embarrassingly explain my dilemma. Sweet as can be she says: "I'm so sorry that happened to you."
She immediately checks to see if anyone returned it and then comes back to the phone apologetic and offering other suggestions for what I could have done with the bookcase. Finally, when I thank her and get ready to end the call, she says: "well, if you decide you want to get another one, you can order it online, and come back, park in the garage and we'll put it in the car for you."
I smiled, laughed, and thanked her profusely. What a nice way to say they'll help ensure that doesn't happen again. And what a living example of the brand.
That's the thing--you can create all the marketing collateral you want and have the best careers site possible. But the employees are the best representation for the company brand and the employee brand. Companies who solve that equation for both layers of the brand win. I'm not talking testimonials. I'm talking living examples, storytelling that defines the brand in action. Connect the employee to the brand and the brand to the prospective employee. An inextricable link. That's the win.
All of that said, I still have one more piece of furniture to buy for my home office. I guess I have to go back to the Container Store. You're going to have to force me [insert sarcasm here].