Conversations, Relationships, and Employer Branding

Everything starts with a conversation. 

As an employer brand professional, you can learn so much about how people perceive, think, and feel about your organization as a place to work.

        What they value. 

        What motivates them. 

        What makes them feel a sense of belonging (or not). 

        What they would change about their employer if they could. 

        And learning starts with taking the time to engage in meaningful conversations. 

Over the past several weeks, I’ve personally benefited from speaking with multiple employees of my clients. Big, global companies. Mid-size companies. Domestic, U.S. companies. Hourly workers. Salaried workers. All levels. Some of these individuals will be featured in employee stories to amplify the organizations’ employer brands. Some are part of workforce research studies; their feedback is integral to defining employer brand strategy or redefining employee experiences.

Across these conversations, a few things have been inherently clear to me: 

  • People will take the time to talk one-on-one if you just simply ask 
  • Employees appreciate knowing their employers are committed to listening to them 
  • They are ever-so-willing to be open and honest in sharing feedback (the good, the bad, and even the ugly) about their employment experiences 
  • And, for as different as people are, we have a lot more in common than you might think 

In speaking with employees in Europe, Asia, the UK, and the U.S., one aspect of the employment experience has been crystallized for me:

the relationship between employee and direct manager has never been more important than it is today. 

In “Beyond EVP: The Future of Employer Brand,” exaqueo debuted the Employment Relationship Model. The model identifies the four key relationships of the modern employment experience as the relationship employees have with:

  1. Their organization
  2. Their co-workers (team, peers)
  3. Their work
  4. Their leaders (inclusive of direct managers)

From an initial interaction with a manager during the interview process to onboarding as a new hire, and from experienced hire to transitioning out of the role or company, direct managers are the key to talent attraction, engagement, and retention. The relationship employees have with their managers is vital to overall engagement with the organization, their commitment to the organization, and their confidence in the organization’s future. 

Employment isn’t an “exchange relationship” or a "transactional relationship." Employment is a “communal relationship” where a community feels a sense of responsibility to each other. And, employees today want to know leaders respect them and want to respect their leaders. They want to feel valued for their contributions, care about their work, and be trusted to do the job for which they are hired. But how can you, as an employer brand leader, know the relationship health of your organization? 

Engagement surveys are often the obvious choice for organizations. But they should not be the only ones.

To fully understand the level of commitment an employee has (or doesn't have) to an organization, leaders need to hear directly from (and listen to) employees. Or better yet, have an unbiased party speak with employees—allowing them to be more open and more honest. Engagement surveys are valuable and insightful, but results often only scratch the surface as they tend to be more quantitative in nature. They are one-sided—all about the organization and the work. It's less about the person. 

There's nothing in engagement surveys that truly aim to understand what motivates people on a personal, emotional, human level. 

Conversations, whether one-on-one or through focus groups, produce rich qualitative insights that get closer to the "why" behind engagement survey data. And closer to understanding employees on a deeper level as people, as individuals. It’s through conversations that we can more deeply understand and appreciate the relationship between employee and manager, employee and their work, and employee and the organization. 

From those conversations, come insights that cannot be underestimated or uncovered by any other means. 

A novel approach? No. 

Just a real, authentic, people-focused one. 

* * * * * * 

Your takeaway from this post: Identify a few employees, in parts of the business different from yours, and set up meet and greets. Ask them to share their thoughts on what it’s like to work at your shared organization. What can you learn from these conversations that will help you in your employer brand role? 

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