The Chief Marketing & People Officer anyone?

Posted on February 10, 2011

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I’m writing a piece for a client at the moment on Employer branding. I’m thinking of calling it “Get yourself a job you really love and you’ll never have to work again”. Anyhow, it’s going to cover three potential truths when it comes to employer branding, and I thought I’d store them here as they emerge.

Let me start by showing you this clip from David Letterman where in a spoof he fires an employee and in minutes that employee is on another channel telling his story.

A humorous film to start, but it embodies the object of this talk, and that’s to share three fundamental thoughts that underpin how a successful employer brand gets built.

First thought: control is no longer ours. That first clip was odd in that embodied the television generation, where content was so closely controlled by the media. Clearly the guy hadn’t been fired, it was a gag. But this is a clip from a show broadcast in an age where all the media was controlled. To many of the employees joining our businesses today, that whole way of thinking – ‘controlling media’ – that’s dead.

This is a hard one to accept because it means putting to one side anything you or I have ever assumed about the workplace. We were brought up in an age where command and control was an assumed fall-back position no matter how wrong we may have thought that to be.

Glassdoor.com now enables employees to take a view of the prospective companies they might join. Employees can quite literally walk through your front door and listen to the people that are working there.

The cluetrain manifesto predicted this change for consumers. It didn’t explicitly predict it for employees (although in another post I tried to illustrate how it did), but the digital age has enabled conversations to take place between employees inside companies and inside industries like never before.

So nowadays the lesson is that “people build brands and brands build business.” It’s people that come first in this equation. Too often the C-Suite would like to say this, but think they can manipulate the phrase without anyone noticing. They say “people build brands and brands build business” and what they are silently thinking is “pull the right levers means that people build brands and brands build business.”

Thomas Hobbes is the father of the social contract. His doctrine stated that the individual would give up their freedoms to a sovereign power in return for peace. That contract has stood until this day, with many a philosopher tweaking it. Broad agreement is that it stands unless the state abuses its power in which case, expect rebellion. Well we are in the middle of a rebellion: a communications rebellion in which we no longer control the microphone or the sound system.

Take a look at this piece of footage from Egypt. This was broadcast on 18 Jan, days before the uprising began. It has 1 million hits and this single woman was one of a small band that forced the tipping point for protest.

Powerful stuff. The relevance to the workplace? Take a look at these employees from a bank airing their thoughts on work practices.

This information is online now. And it is online forever. Forever. Can’t emphasize that enough. Whilst it does matter what MBNA does next – and they will no doubt have done some good stuff – these employee reactions will form part of their digital brand footprint for many years to come.

So, next time our C-Suite executives ask us about the importance of our brand being the embodiment of our people rather than being something that gets forced upon our people. Let’s show them this. Make it a link on your iphone – that’s how accessible it is. Or stick a hashtag into your twitter. Try #whistleblower or #employeeleaks. Yes, like wikileaks, there is now a www.employeeleaks.com

So lesson number one. Control is no longer ours, and people will play a huge part in the brands we build. But, if control is no longer ours, what does it mean for the employer brands we build? It means they have to be built with the external brand, not as an after-thought or as a bolt on culture. This means that HR Directors have to seriously sit down with Marketing Directors and insist that the brand positioning of any business is built with the beliefs and values of the employee base prioritised alongside the customer base. What does that mean for our jobs? Well I’ve yet to see it, but I can foresee a new job-title – Chief Marketing & People Officer.

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