Gaining Executive Buy-in for Your Employer Brand

Coca-Cola. Johnson & Johnson. BP. Chick-Fil-A.

Just the mention of a well-known brand conjures up opinion, association, and reputation. A brand is only as strong as its value in the market. And that’s why so many organizations spend billions of dollars on brand and marketing.

You can’t ever control your brand completely. But you can drive and shift brand perception, and ultimately value. Marketers know this. And people leaders are slowly (and finally!) figuring it out.

Enter employer brand. Organizations recognize the reputation of their employment experience matters more than ever. And they’re going beyond updated messaging on their careers sites or creating new university relations materials. All of that matters, but it won’t be impactful unless it’s built upon a strong strategy: research, a brand architecture, and a defined brand identity.

You may already be managing a strong employer brand, or, in the beginning stages of developing one. Either way, there is one thing you must have to be successful: buy-in. Whether you have a million dollar budget or you’re starting from scratch, if you don’t get the attention, support, and buy-in from your leaders and key stakeholders, you may falter before you even start.

Here are four ways to get buy-in from your organization’s key players:

1) Start with a listening tour

Buy-in happens most successfully when what you’re doing matters to your stakeholders. (<—click to tweet this!) Take a listening tour across your organization. Don’t sell employer brand … yet. Instead, take an interview approach to understand where talent challenges lie from the perspective of those facing them. This can include executives—but also key regional or field leaders.

2) Build a business case

Once you’ve taken the time to listen, now it’s time to take your show on the road. Build a short, but impactful business case, that shows why employer brand is important, and what it can mean for the organization and individual leaders. Show what successful competitors are doing and articulate the risk for not investing in employer branding. Ask for feedback. Ask for help. Ask for advice on what you can do to get attention and resources. And continue to listen.

3) Identify influencers

Every organization has leaders who can help get support, interest, and even funding for employer brand. It’s crucial you don’t present as an initiative or project, but rather a shift in the way of thinking. When I was in-house, my listening tour yielded four types of stakeholders:

  1. Early adopters: these are leaders who love being first out of the gate. They don’t mind the risk and appreciate being known for innovation. They can be your biggest advocates and will love celebrating success with you.
  2. Problem solvers: these are leaders who aren’t normally the first to try something new. But they have a challenge on their hands and they’ve tried other solutions to no avail. They can be really supportive but often are looking for a quick-fix. It’s important to ensure you don’t sell employer branding as a quick win, but a long-term strategy.
  3. Interested supporters: these are leaders who will support the idea but don’t have the time or resources to devote to diving in right away. They’re important to keep open lines of communication with and among the first with whom you should share news about success and results.
  4. Distracted colleagues: these leaders are those who may doubt your efforts, are distracted with other serious priorities, or don’t (yet) see the value of an employer brand. Don’t debate them or try to force inclusion. Work on results with your early adopters and problem solvers, and let the data make the case for you. (<—click to tweet this!)

Ultimately, it was an early adopter and a problem solver who helped garner attention and resources to the work. The early adopter was my former-CHRO who liked the idea of having an exceptionally innovative focus among other important, but less exciting focus areas (like a new ATS).

The problem solver was my former-head of HR for Asia, who needed to hire a vast amount of talent in a region with a number of logistical and administrative complications. Ultimately, he saw employer brand as a way to address their biggest employment hurdle: brand recognition and value.

The most distracted colleague resisted change from day one. Rather than force her to get on board, I saved her function for last. Ultimately, so many other leaders were now on board and seeing success, the CHRO had to do little convincing to do in the end.

4) Find measures that make sense

Employer brand is notoriously hard to measure. Not because the measures aren’t there, but because we’re either measuring the wrong thing or we don’t have the tools or technology to measure. Don’t fall prey to traditional measures like time to fill (TTF) or cost per hire (CPH). These metrics have so many influences, it’s impossible to attribute success or failure to employer brand.

Instead, look at measures like source of influence. Use focus groups, interviews, and surveys to regularly measure what impact messaging, brand identity, and specific marketing channels have on both candidates and employees. Test your employer brand and core messaging on a regular basis to show the shift in sentiment, perspective, and even ratings.

Ultimately, you can’t build a brand in a box. You may be the steward of the brand, but until your leaders and communicators (i.e., hiring managers, executives, and ambassadors) are on board, you won’t see success.

The best brands are built on consistency and buy-in. (<—click to tweet this!) I knew I had built a successful brand when my CHRO appeared on national television talking about talent strategy, with messages completely on-point to our employer brand. At that moment, he demonstrated the value of employer brand to candidates, employees, and leaders alike. Walking the walk = living the brand.

How do you get buy-in? Share your thoughts or reach out if we can help you build the case.

This post is the third in our employer brand “Start to Finish” series. Be sure to read the other articles in this series, “Questions to Ask Before Developing an Employer Brand” and “Launching an Employer Brand Partner Search.

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