How to Engage Employees to Be Part of Your Employer Branding Strategy

By Richard Mosley

If your employer brand management efforts are focused primarily on recruitment marketing, engaging employees may be limited to a news update. However, if you’re taking a more integrated approach that involves recruitment marketing and overhauling the employment experience, then some form of proactive engagement is valuable.

Motivating employee engagement relies a great deal on timing and how substantial and genuine are the proposed improvements to the employment experience. Introducing a new employer brand promise often falls flat unless it’s accompanied by real improvement in the workplace. Simply being reminded that they’re working for a great employer isn’t likely to engage employees. People are more interested in what’s coming next to freshen things up and make things better.

For people to “buy” the employer brand, they first need to understand the context in which it’s being introduced. In the backs of their minds, they’re asking, “Why is it being launched now?,” “How does it connect with the wider purpose and goals of the organization?,” and “What’s in it for me?” In our experience, employer brands need a strong business context to justify a major launch. What you need to do to engage employees depends on the situation:

  • An external brand re-launch requires employee behavior change. The best way to motivate employees to change their behaviors is to ensure managers take the lead in modeling these desired behaviors. For example, if you want employees to be more responsive to customers’ needs, then you need to ensure that managers are more responsive to employees’ needs. If new “brand” behaviors conflict with their employer brand experience, they’re far more likely to deem the initiative superficial, “a show put on for customers” rather than a natural extension of a deeply rooted brand ethos.
  • Organization change initiatives are in the works. If the organization is restructuring, reengineering, downsizing, right-sizing, centralizing, decentralizing, or undergoing some other major overhaul, explain the beneficial consequences of the change to employees, including potential adjustments to the overall employment deal. When employees are apprised of such changes, they’re more likely to accept them and make the necessary adjustments and accommodations.
  • The organization is experiencing a merger or acquisition. In situations such as these, the role of the employer brand is to help establish a sense of shared purpose and identity. For the employees in the acquired organization, this represents a key moment of truth. To dispel any fears about changes that may negatively affect the employment experience, sensitively redefine both the components of the employment deal, as well as the more emotional, underlying psychological contract between employer and employee.
  • The employee engagement survey results are in. The employee engagement survey plays an important role in giving voice to what employees feel is important to them, but employees may perceive the local management response to be overly reactive (why did they wait until now?), disjointed (what’s the overall plan?), and overly focused on failings (addressing problems rather than building on strengths). Presenting the survey findings in the context of your EVP reminds employees that longer-term leadership commitments are in place, a structured global approach to people management is being implemented, improvements are on the horizon, and the organization is committed to ongoing improvement of the employment experience.

Choose and plan your major initiatives carefully. Employees tend to be cynical about the latest “big initiative,” because they tend to have seen many such initiatives come and go without resulting in any major improvement. In large organizations, many internal initiatives may be running concurrently, each with its own call to action, launch pack, and instruction guide. In many cases, initiatives aren’t carefully aligned and sometimes conflict. As a result, employees in big organizations tend to feel overwhelmed by information and decidedly underwhelmed in terms of inspiration and engagement.

Brand-focused engagement campaigns are particularly prone to cynicism. Whether they come in the form of internal “living the brand” marketing exercises, CEO-endorsed vision and values, or “culture change,” they’re often enveloped in an aura of unreality. They tend to paint a compelling picture of the future but seldom feel rooted in the current, day-to-day realities of the business. They promise much, but generally underdeliver.

You may have heard such initiatives described as “sheep dip”; the variant for brand engagement is the “brandwash.”

Bearing these caveats in mind, launching an employer brand can be fraught with difficulties unless it’s carefully planned and executed. One way of approaching this is to plan out your internal campaign with three important questions in mind:

  • What do we want people to think?
  • How do we want people to feel?
  • What do we want people to do?

Employer branding launch campaigns need to address all three with equal rigor to achieve anything of lasting value.